If all goes to plan, on March 6, Martha Stewart will be released from the big house to her own big house.
What will Martha do? It's been well publicized that Stewart will star in a TV show produced by reality whiz Mark "Survivor" Burnett. She has also indicated plans to write a book about her prison time, and while she hasn't publicly discussed a speaking tour, consultant Robert Smith thinks that's likely.
"If you thought she was in demand in her pre-prison life, she'll be even more so now," says Smith, 31, who should know--he was in prison for six months and a halfway house for three, for stealing credit cards. He turned his life around in the last couple of years, forming Rockford, Illinois-based Robert Smith & Associates PR, which expects 2005 revenues of $500,000.
What should Martha do? "The guillotine hanging over her head is her image and how she handles it," says Lonnie Pacelli, author of The Project Management Advisor. One way to make amends is to "inspire others on how to conduct business ethically," says Pacelli. "She should spend her time giving speeches and educating business owners, managers and CEOs."
What should you do if you're a newly freed jailbird entrepreneur with fewer prospects than Martha? If your business is still running, your prison time may not matter. "When people walk into a grocery store, for instance, they usually don't know the history of the owner," says Peter Cervieri, a partner at New York City-based strategic advisory firm Lion Strategy Advisors. "But they might care, if they knew." Cervieri recommends adopting a low profile, at least for a few months after returning.
Can prison actually help an entrepreneur? Smith doesn't recommend trying to find out, but he thinks Stewart will return to society a more adept entrepreneur than ever. "Some of the most innovative people in the world are in prison," observes Smith, referring to some great escapes. "You cannot hang around in that environment and not become a better and more strategic thinker."
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.