What Is a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
A certified woman-owned business is one that’s granted special consideration by different businesses and organizations. Because women often have a difficult time moving up in the economy, a certification can be the answer to gaining more leverage.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers the most widely recognized certification, otherwise known as the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB). There’s also a subcategory of this certification known as the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB).
Most federal contracts stipulated for women businesses will require one or the other. The government has publicly stated that their intention is to give at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women. These certificates are a way of proving that women are at the top of the company ladder and making the strategic decisions that will breathe new life into different types of projects.
For some businesses, it makes sense to certify for both an EDWOSB and a WOSB when possible. This is because certain funds are set aside specifically for the different designations. (You’ll see this most often for contracts in male-dominated fields, such as engineering.) If applying for both through the SBA, you’ll be given a small discount in terms of the application fees.
The SBA isn’t the only organization to dole out certifications though. You may also want to consider a National Women Business Enterprise (NWBE) certificate. This won’t qualify you for federal opportunities, but it may be enough for municipal organizations, state agencies, or even private companies.
Women-Owned Business Third-Party Certifiers
You can apply for the WOSB through the SBA directly or you can go through one of its approved third-party certifiers. The following are three organizations in Maine that you can apply through:
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC): WBENC promotes diversity whenever possible and helps businesswomen become certified to go further in their careers.
- U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC): This organization gives women in business the resources and work they need to grow in confidence and leadership.
- National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC): This organization aims to unite millions of women-owned businesses to advocate for the advancement for all.
If certifying through a third-party agency, you will need to send the WOSB and/or EDWOSB to the SBA so you can be included in the proper directories.
You can also go through the third-party certifiers if you choose to go for an NWBE instead. Some women will apply for as many certifications as possible just to give themselves access to a wide variety of businesswomen resources and opportunities.
No matter which organization or certificate you choose though, you’ll be working with a group that wants small businesses to succeed. The third-party certifiers in particular are focused on the rights and interests of women, which can be an invaluable support system for any small business owner.
What Are the Qualifications to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business?
The SBA sets the following standards for women-owned small businesses in Maine:
- The business must be primarily run (at least 51%) by women
- Women must be controlling both daily operations and long-term strategy
- The business must meet the SBA’s parameters of a small business
- All women business owners must be US citizens
- The highest ranking official at the company must be a woman
If you’re applying for the EDWOSB in Maine, the idea is to show that you’re a woman-owned business with economically disadvantaged owners. Each individual owner must prove the following about her finances:
- 3-year adjusted gross income average must be $350,000 or less
- Fair market value of all assets must be $6 million or less
- Total net worth must be $750,000 or less
There are certain exclusions for the EDWOSB, largely rooted in special circumstances for your net worth and average income. For example, if one of your owners came into a large and unexpected inheritance that inflated her income, then this does not necessarily disqualify your business from the EDWOSB. There is no leeway given for the fair market value of assets though.
If you’re applying for the NWBE, the requirements are largely the same as the WOSB. You’ll need to prove that the women at the top are both qualified and in control. You can also expect a site visit before approval where an official will verify the flow and direction of daily operations.
How Do You Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Maine?
A women-owned business certification in Maine begins with deciding which one you want and which organization to choose. Some women find that the contracts they want to apply for require WBEs only, making it easier to rule out the WOSB. However, it’s important to consider more than just the obvious opportunities. You may find that your business can be pivoted slightly to fulfill different federal or state needs.
To get a better idea of whether or not you qualify, try taking a preliminary assessment through the SBA. Even if you’re not planning to apply for a WOSB, this test can give you a better idea of the types of questions you’ll be asked and the documents you’ll need to provide. After, refer to the SBA's preparation checklist to make sure you have everything you need beforehand.
When you’re certain you want to move forward, we recommend looking into different groups before deciding which one to certify through. If you know for certain that you want to work with the federal government, then you can consider going through the SBA. However, if you’re more open to additional opportunities, then working with a third-party certifier can help expose you to new partnerships both inside and outside of the professional group.
You should also consider the fee structure of each group. Your individual fees may vary based on your business, but in general, going through a third-party may cost you more than going through the SBA. This can be an important factor for businesses that are watching their budget, though it shouldn’t be your only calculation. If you’re planning to take full advantage of a group’s benefits (e.g., the WBENC, the NWBOC, etc.), then the extra fees may be more than justified. It all comes down to what you want from your certification.
Try contacting the local chapters in your area to find out more about how they can help. If your application is likely to be messy because of all your exclusions, then you may want to consider how a third-party will respond as opposed to a federal agency like the SBA. The general approval process can take as long as 90 days, but going through a third-party may make it easier to be approved within 15 – 30 days.
If you’re certifying for either the WOSB or the EDWOSB through the SBA, you’ll be able to self-certify up until the summer of 2020. After June 30 though, the regulations are changing to reflect new certification standards. You will need to either certify with a third-party agency or go through the SBA’s online program. The final changes after the summer are still in suspension, so you’re advised to keep up with any impending adjustments.
If you choose the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business federal contracting program, you can apply for certification through their online portal. The SBA application involves two steps:
- Visit sam.gov (the System for Award Management)
- It’s free
- You will have to wait at least 72 hours before step 2
- Visit certify.sba.gov and complete the form
SBA’s online program is free to use, though you will still need to pay the required fees if you’re interested in receiving an actual certificate through a third-party, since the SBA does not provide the certificate itself. A certificate is not required for federal government contracts — you only need to be officially certified and listed on their women-owned business database.
If you’re still unsure about the specifics of the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program, you can call (800) 827-5722 or email answerdesk@SBA.gov. To speak to a representative, be prepared to wait approximately 5-10 minutes for the automated message to end and depending on their call volume, you may have a longer wait.
Maine Woman-Owned Business Certification Resources
Different states and cities provide their own certification programs for women-owned businesses. This can be helpful for women who would prefer to start and stay local.
Maine Department of Transportation
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification is open to women and minorities in the state that can be contracted for transportation-related projects. These contracts require the use of federal funds, and can be applied to public transit, aviation, and highway-related services. If you provide airport concessions, you may also be able to go through this program.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming a Certified Woman-Owned Business in Maine?
All certified businesses are placed in a directory where businesses and agencies can verify your business and use it to find you if they require your goods and services. Some women in business will use their certification primarily as a marketing tool whereby they can gain publicity for their work. Again, women-owned firms in traditionally underrepresented economy sectors tend to do the best after receiving certifications.
The main benefits for businesses are the potential to grow their company both in terms of size, skills, and revenue. Certified women-owned businesses are given unique opportunities for networking, training, and general education. Owners are alerted to new contracts so they can apply for them immediately, giving them a chance to see how the market is growing and where they can fit their business into the mix.
Grants are not made specifically available to certified women-owned businesses in Maine, though it’s worth noting that there are national and industry grants that may take your certification into account. The funding opportunities are primarily meant to be available through the contracts that you’ll apply for. You can use these dollars to hire more people and strike out a little further in your field.
Maine has rated very highly when it comes to employment through women-owned businesses. In fact, it was the only state in the Northeast to hit the top 10 states for employment vitality. It’s a strong sign for women owners who want to bring their skills into the marketplace by branching out with new opportunities. Additionally, women can seek more businesswomen resources for their ventures through the Small Business Development Center.