The Business Plan Advising Program is one of the highest-impact and most engaging volunteer activities available through PEP. Using existing business acumen and encouragement, Advisors support and accompany an inmate through his journey in this life-transforming program.
Thank you for your interest in learning more about becoming a Business Plan Advisor! We have put together an FAQ section here that will answer many of your questions about getting involved because we hope that you will be well-informed before you make the decision to sign-up. If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please review the Current Advisor tab. If you’re seeking further information … please Contact Us to answer your questions or provide more information.
What 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:
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:
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.
Absolutely. Click the links below to see sample documents.
Business Plan Sample – This document is a complete business plan from PEP’s Class 17 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.
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.
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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!
Am 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Easy! Click on the tab that says Sign-Up, complete the form and hit the Submit button.
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In an effort to equip you as a Business Plan Advisor, we have included in-depth instructions along with instructions for each section of the business plan. Please read the instructions carefully before you dig in to the business plan!
You can also download a PDF of these complete Advising Instructions here.
Please write your participant a letter as a separate Word document. Please do not send photos of you or your family. Please save as “LastnameFirstinitial Advisor Letter.doc” (last name of PEP participant + first initial). Please include the following in the letter:
This document does not require editing. This is your introduction to the participant.
The Personal Statement tells the participant’s story with the goal of demonstrating personal transformation. This is not a standard part of a business plan, but because of his history, we feel it is important to include. We tell the participant that the day he committed his crime, he was the furthest away from being considered “financially backable” as a future entrepreneur—even to the most high-risk venture capitalist. For people to trust him as an entrepreneur, the participant must demonstrate that he has changed his values and is ready to live a productive life. Therefore, we ask him to share his story, in detail, including his childhood and criminal history. Then we ask him to answer the questions: How have you changed? Why do you want to become an entrepreneur? Why should society trust you with a small business? Ideally, the document should provide good evidence of personal transformation.
Please suggest the elimination of anything that seems like “too much information.” It’s good for the participant to talk about his upbringing, family situation, crime, etc., but there is a fine line between what is appropriate and what is considered too much information. Also, please suggest the elimination of sections where the participant goes into far too much detail (e.g., lengthy descriptions of family members or that he owned a red tricycle growing up). Help your participant create a concise and moving Personal Statement. Please use your best judgment.
The Personal Statement should be up to two pages, single-spaced in length and written in first person form (e.g., I was born in Houston, Texas).
The Mission Statement is a brief description of what the participant’s business will provide for its customers. This statement should be two to three sentences long and should provide an understanding of the business’s goals. The statement must include the following four components:
The purpose of the Leadership Statement is to establish credibility as a future entrepreneur by highlighting the participant’s experience, accomplishments and leadership abilities. This professional biography can include both free-world and prison accomplishments such as classes, education and work experience. He should also state his role and responsibilities in his new company. It should be written in third person (e.g., John Doe has 30 years of work experience in the construction industry.) and should be two to four paragraphs in length.
Information provided in this statement should not have significant overlap with the Personal Statement (although there may be a bit of overlap)—they have two different purposes.
Many of our participants have been incarcerated for extensive periods of time, ranging from 18 months to 30 years. While they’ve been locked up, the world has changed significantly—pricing, technology, the Internet, cell phones, distribution channels, etc. Many have little understanding of business competition, differentiation and current markets. Inmates are not granted Internet access; thus, you are their link to the outside world in terms of collecting relevant information from which they will write their business plans.
Your participant will complete his market research request form, which includes his mission statement, industry and market research requests. There is a place on the form where he may have indicated any known sources where you may find relevant industry information. He may know exactly where to point you, or he may have no idea. He may ask for relevant demographic information or may still be a bit confused about what he needs to ask for or what is “relevant.”
Your job is to determine the type of information he will really need to write his business plan and to track down this information on his behalf. On the second half of the form, we’ve indicated some research items that would help him write his plan. Please feel free to review the completed business plan under the Samples tab to get an idea of the finished product. The Market, Competition and Differentiation section will give you a good feel for the type of information necessary to create the plan.
Helpful information will include:
Please note that if your participant made a very unusual, hard-to-find request, you do not have to fulfill every bit of the request! He probably can live without all of the information. Please use your best judgment in determining the critical information.
Also, we try to compile good research sites and sources to prevent the duplication of efforts. Please send the Advising Program Manager links to any helpful web sites or sources of information. If you come across any books that would be helpful to your participant, please notify the Advising Program Manager of the book title and author, and PEP may be able to purchase it for the participant.
You will notice that some of these forms are incomplete and many also include spelling and grammatical errors. For many participants, the first few weeks in PEP have been their first-ever exposure to a computer. We have to teach them how to use a mouse so please bear with us as we teach them how to type!
You have two options for submitting market research information for your participant:
Of all deadlines throughout the advising process, the market research deadline is the most important! Writing the rest of their plans is dependent upon the receipt of this information so please respond in a timely manner!
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please do not include any maps in your market research, as TDCJ policies prohibit maps inside the prison. Thank you in advance for helping us stay in compliance with prison policies.
The résumé is an extremely important document for your participant, as he will use this document to help find employment upon release. It is imperative that you spend the time to help make this document as complete and correct as possible.
Here are some considerations for the résumé:
In this section, the participant should describe his product or service in great detail. He does not need to go into pricing or marketing, but he should elaborate on the range of products/services and how they will be delivered. This should be one to three paragraphs.
For the MCD section, the participant relies on the market research you provided. If the participant does not have the necessary information, we told him to write what he needed and literally put in a blank line (e.g., “The landscaping industry is a $____ billion market”). PLEASE make the time to obtain necessary market research and fill in the blanks for him. However, if he is asking for unnecessary or irrelevant data, add a comment stating why you feel the information is not needed.
MCD should be three separate sections. If he didn’t have any information on his competitors, he may have had very little to write. Please try to obtain information on both regional and national competitors. Think outside of the box. For home remodeling, other companies in the same business are direct competitors. Our participants also compete against stores like Home Depot who are willing to train homeowners to do the work themselves. Home Depot may also have its own contractors in-house who can perform the work.
For differentiation, we encourage our participants to compete on issues other than price. We do not want our men to fall into the trap of thinking they always have to be the least costly. Offer suggestions where the participant can create added value for his customer (convenience, cleanliness, response time, etc.).
This document should have separate sections labeled: Price, Place and Promotion. These sections should contain specific information on each topic. For example, the participant’s business probably offers one, two or three products/services. He should specifically discuss the pricing of each. He may need to discuss his overall pricing strategy, as well. For promotion, consider whether the marketing technique is cost-effective and consistent with the business’s products/services. For example, distributing fliers in a grocery store parking lot is not the most effective way to promote premium bathroom tile work.
An optional section that may be included is his “Sales Pitch,” in which he could write one to two paragraphs of his “elevator pitch” to a potential customer. The sales pitch can be written in the first person. Each of these sub-sections should be a separate paragraph with a header.
The participant should have written tangible, quantifiable goals for several time periods. We instructed him to use bullet points and to write in fragments. An example of good objectives:
Examples of poorly written objectives:
Included in the Vision and Objectives document is the participant’s Community Impact section. We teach him about giving generously to the community and about corporate social responsibility. Each participant has hurt society by committing his crime and taking up taxpayer dollars while incarcerated. We hope that his business not only becomes successful, but also creates significance in the lives of others. We encourage him to give back personally beginning right when he is released, so that giving and volunteering become a way of life—not something that he waits until he becomes “rich” to do.
That said, you will notice that a participant may be a bit ambitious with his plans (e.g., giving back 20% of his first year’s revenues). We do encourage him to tithe (10%) out of his personal income, but giving back so aggressively out of his company’s revenue may be too much. Please advise him to give back generously but in a realistic way. He does not need to give back financially out of his company; he can also give by providing pro-bono services (e.g., a window washing business could clean a church’s windows for free).
Corporate social responsibility is a different matter than corporate giving and will be more relevant to some businesses than others. Please help your participant to brainstorm on the best ways to run an ethical and socially-conscious business. He may have written that he will be running an “honest business” which really doesn’t need to be stated in writing; honesty is to be assumed.
The final document you will receive is the complete business plan. Besides including the sections which you have previously reviewed, you will see the following sections for the first time. Please read the entire plan and review it closely for internal consistency and completeness. Realize it is possible the participant has more than one advisor, and as such, he may have received different changes and/or feedback from both of you and had to choose between the comments. Because of this, all of your previous comments may not have been included in the final draft. Please do not let that limit your feedback.