THE ROLEWhat is a business plan advisor?
As a Business Plan Advisor, your job is to help the participant produce a grammatically correct and conceptually sound business plan. We aren’t just doing a feel good exercise where the men create business plans that are “good for an inmate.” Our participants already have an X on their backs when released so they need to meet an even higher standard. Their business plans should rival those written by MBA students, and we hope you will provide great feedback and guidance to help them reach that high standard.
The role of an Advisor is an extremely rewarding position. You not only help participants learn and improve skills that equip them for future success, you also receive a sense of fulfillment and purpose through the program. Previous Advisors found that their role exceeded their initial expectations and they got out what they put into the program.
The specific duties of an advisor include:
- Grammatical Feedback: Correct any misspelling and grammatical errors, but do not re-write the paper. Help the men to learn through this process by providing suggestions rather than re-writing the document.
- Conceptual Feedback: Be direct with your feedback and try to steer him in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to tell him one of his ideas may not work if you don’t think it is feasible. Help him create a conceptually-sound business plan.
- Business Consulting: Challenge him to think about things he may not have considered. Use your business toolkit to suggest different marketing and pricing strategies. You’re the expert—give him some direction!
- Market Research: The participants have no Internet access and some have been locked up for long periods of time. Use your research skills to help them find information on pricing, competitors and the market.
- Reality Check: The profit margins on mowing a lawn shouldn’t be 90%. Use data to provide a reality check when the plan seems unrealistic.
- Financial Advice: Of all the business plan sections, the financials are usually the most confusing for our participants. You will be the sounding board for financial projections.
- Encouragement: You can include words of encouragement along with any general comments about the document.
Who can get involved as a business plan advisor?
A strong Business Plan Advisor will have a formal education in business and/or real world business or entrepreneurship experience. The advisor will be looked to as the business expert so, at minimum, a basic foundation of business knowledge is a must.
Examples of great advisor profiles include:
- Business professionals and executives
- MBA students
- Professional communicators, such as writers, editors and marketing professionals
- Academics with business-related backgrounds
PEP needs volunteers who will be dedicated to this experience throughout the five-month duration of the in-prison class. Because the process includes tight timelines that coincide with our curriculum, you must make a commitment to return business plan files on time. It is disappointing to a participant if their advisor fails to live out their commitment in a timely and professional manner. If you doubt your ability to commit to this volunteer opportunity, please don’t sign up.
Can I see examples of the work I’ll be doing?
Absolutely. Click the links below to see sample documents.
Business Plan Sample – This document is a complete business plan from PEP’s Class 8 graduate who won the Business Plan Competition for his class.
Advisor Feedback – These documents show examples of the grammatical and conceptual feedback provided by Business Plan Advisors.
TIME COMMITMENTWhat is the time commitment and duration?
PEP runs two classes per calendar year, and your commitment is for only one class at a time. The approximate class schedule is broken down as follows:
Class 1: January – June
Class 1 advising: February – May
Class 2: July – December
Class 2 advising: August – November
Over the course of a four-month advising process, you will spend about 1-2 hours every week editing business plans for both content and grammar. For the market research assignment, you will likely spend 2-6 hours over a two week time period. See the sample schedule below for a breakdown of what that looks like.
Can I see a sample schedule?
Below is a sample schedule to give you an overview of the entire advising process. Please keep in mind this is an “ideal” schedule—holidays, prison lockdowns and hurricane evacuations can all have a profound effect on this schedule, but this is what we strive to accomplish!
BUSINESS PLAN ADVISOR PROCESSAm I required to go to prison?
Business Plan Advisors are not required to attend prison events; however, we highly encourage you to do so because you are going to be one of the most influential factors in the business plan creation process. Your full support would be greatly appreciated by your PEP participant—and we’re certain that your volunteer experience will be vastly richer and rewarding once you’ve seen firsthand the mission to which you’re contributing.
The prison where PEP operates is located in Cleveland, Texas, which is about 30 minutes north of Houston.
Meeting your participant in prison gives you the chance to:
- Put a face with a name and a story. It’s a great opportunity for you to establish a solid, professional relationship with your participant.
- Have a real conversation about the business plan in addition to the one-way feedback you provide during the business plan creation process. That one-on-one time is so valuable, and the participants really enjoy the quality opportunity to soak up all of your business expertise—nothing can replace human interaction!
- Be available for questions to provide additional understanding of business strategies. Your participant likely has no formal training in business. You will be bombarded with all sorts of questions which will help your participant gain valuable understanding.
The events we highly encourage for Business Plan Advisors are the Saturday events where you get to spend the entire day providing in-depth feedback and coaching. These events include Concept Day, Business Plan Workshop and Pitch Day. Of course, you are welcome to attend any and all other class events, as well. For more information and to sign up to attend an event, click here.
How do I know who I will be working with?
You will be paired with a one of our program participants based on assignments made by our in-prison staff. Whenever possible, we seek to match an advisor’s area of expertise with the industry of a participant’s business plan.
Occasionally, one participant may have two advisors, should we have a generous number of volunteers. This is a great situation for the participants, as they get feedback from two perspectives which will help make his business plan even stronger. Please know that even if there are two advisors, your input is still vitally important so please don’t ever assume you can skip a week of feedback. We ask for your commitment 100% whether there are one or two advisors for your participant—you can each bring something important to the business plan.
You will get to know your participant’s story of incarceration early in the business plan advising process through the Personal Statement document. PEP participants are of all races, ages and criminal backgrounds (minus sexual offenses) so we hope that having the opportunity to know your participant’s background and story will prove helpful in understanding where your participant has been and what he hopes to accomplish with his life.
How does the communication process work between my participant and me?
The communication between you and your participant during the business plan advising process will be handled by PEP staff members. Your email address will never be given to your participant, and you will never communicate directly with anyone in prison.
The participants will type their business plan files using Microsoft Word and Excel in the prison computer lab, and the files will be sent to the Advising Program Manager who will then send the files directly to each Business Plan Advisor. You will receive the files, feedback instructions and a deadline each week there is an assignment. You will review the documents for grammar and content and then send them back to the Advising Program Manager prior to the deadline. The files then get sent to a PEP staff member who will bring them into prison each week.
It is important to respect all of the assignment deadlines, as your participant is waiting on your feedback. He will get a limited amount of computer time each week so it’s imperative that your feedback has been received by his assigned computer time. Please make every effort to submit the files prior to the deadline.
It is PEP policy that our volunteers do not write letters to the participants while they are incarcerated. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has strict rules about volunteer-inmate communication so we prefer not to have our volunteers write letters to the participants. You are free to release your contact information for the participant to contact you post-release, but until then, please stick to visiting prison and providing feedback on the business plan documentation.
What if my participant quits or gets separated from the program?
Occasionally, participants quit or must be separated from the program. This has nothing to do with the Business Plan Advisor or the quality or quantity of help that your participant received from you. Most likely he couldn’t handle the intense workload required by PEP, or he was removed because he did not exhibit the level of change that we require for a participant in our program. The separation can occur for several reasons including work ethic, attitude, not abiding by rules, etc. We always wish our former participants the best moving forward, and they will have access to the materials that were provided during the advising process. Therefore, the help and attention that you provide is still very important and in no way a waste of effort. It’s very possible that the spark we starting seeing in him will ignite in time.
Separations are always very disappointing but are truly for the best. We want you to fully engage with your participant but also be aware of the realities of our program. If your participant is separated, you are welcome to stay involved by being reassigned to another participant, or you can sign up to get involved again during the next class.
How do I sign up?
Easy! Click on the tab that says Sign-Up, complete the form and hit the Submit button.
How do I learn more about PEP?
To learn more about PEP, please see our website at www.pep.org.