When it comes to pitches, everyone’s a critic. Just the order that information is presented can be the difference between holding someone’s attention or losing it. Here’s a scientifically-based formula to help you craft a winning business summary.

Business summaries aren’t really summaries

The need for short summaries comes up a lot in startups. Profiles, applications, emails, social media, partners, press… the amount of text you have to work with varies from a full presentation to just a few sentences.

When the whole team is working night and day on complex problems, the idea of summing up everything your company does is daunting. However, this sentence embodies a common misconception.

A great business summary isn’t a summary at all. It’s not about compressing everything your company does or listing every benefit you offer customers. A great summary is sales copy that effectively positions your company to the reader.

Lessons from the Pitch Guru

If you’re serious about pitching, I recommend reading The Startup Pitch by Chris Lipp. Chris outlines a comprehensive framework for crafting compelling stories based on the most effective startup pitches of all time.

My biggest take away from Chris’s book is that, in sales pitches, presenting information in the right order makes all the difference.

The right order will trigger the ‘solution reflex’

An effective summary answers questions in four ordered categories; Problem, Solution, Market and Business Model. I’ve used this approach to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding from angel investors and VCs. It works really well.

Starting with the problem grounds your business real-world context. It presents your business as purposeful, urgent, and user-centered. But something else happens when you tell someone a problem. It triggers a “solution reflex”: When people identify with problems, they instinctively want a solution. Activating the solution reflex is a powerful way to hold someone’s attention.

Problems and Solutions come as a pair. So do Markets and Business Models. Describing your market demonstrates the total value your business can create. But it also presents a major problem your company faces; reaching and capturing value from this market. A well-articulated market description can trigger the solution reflex as well.

12 questions for a better summary

Answering each of the following questions in one short, clear sentence will help you formulate your business summary. Brevity and clarity are critical to creating the impact you want. This means being specific and not generalizing.

What if you absolutely need two sentences to answer a question fully? Easy, don’t answer fully. Delete one of the sentences and double your impact.

In business summaries, it’s more important to be compelling than comprehensive.

Problem:

  • 1. Description — what activity is your target customer having trouble with?
  • 2. Pain — what specific problem do they face?
  • 3. Key trend — what market trend is your business riding on?

Solution:

  • 4. USP — what is your product’s unique selling proposition?
  • 5. Benefits — what do users stop losing out on by using your product?
  • 6. Traction — what existing data shows customers love your product?

Market:

  • 7. Target — what role is your customer playing when using your product?
  • 8. Size — how many people play this role in your target geography?
  • 9. Advantages — if customers picked your best competitor, what would they miss out on?

Business model:

  • 10. Go to market — how will influence your target market?
  • 11. Revenue model — how will you charge money, and to whom?
  • 12. Next milestones — what is the nearest, most exciting accomplishment you’re aiming for?

How this applies to Medium

This is where I put my money where my mouth is. Here’s how I’d describe Medium as a business.

Sharing your story with the world is hard. Building and marketing a blog or mailing list is expensive and time-consuming. Increasingly, writers are turning to social media to share their ideas and perspectives.

Medium is a platform that helps great stories find their audience. Writers can access a huge audience for their stories for free, and readers can find the best stories as voted by others. 25 million people already visit Medium every month to publish and consume great content.

Business leaders, publications, and ordinary citizens already use social media to share their message. Over 70 percent of people in the US consume social media every month. Unlike other platforms, Medium offers the best reading and writing experience for thoughtful articles.

Most of Medium’s traffic comes from individual writers publicizing their own work to their networks. Medium recently launched a beta program allowing publishers to promote their stories. Full rollout of Promoted Stories is expected in 2017.

How to adapt this for any word-count

If you’ve got this far, you already have a powerful summary of your business in four paragraphs of approximately 150 words. But how do you make it shorter?

The trick is to cut out the least relevant sentences for the reader. The rule of thumb is that, no matter the audience, always lead with the problem.

For example, a 30-word power business summary could be just three sentences:

  • Pain
  • USP
  • Benefit

A 50-word summary for potential investors could be:

  • Description
  • Pain
  • USP
  • Traction
  • Next milestones

Why this is worth sharing

As an investor, I read a lot of business summaries and, more often than not, I’m left confused. A summary is how most people will learn about your business, one way or another. Make it great — first impressions count.

Dave Bailey is Entrepreneur in Residence for Downing Ventures. He previously built and sold tech businesses in UK, US, and Brazil. You can read about his lessons learned during 10 years as a tech founder at Dave-Bailey.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davesuperman.