How to Best Prepare for Women-Owned Business Certification

Woman sitting in her office reading a document.

Women-owned Business Certification is an important option to consider for female entrepreneurs looking to scale their companies — particularly for those who want to do more business with the federal government or corporate America.

While its benefits are abundant, certification is not the most straightforward process — you have to meet specific qualifications and fill in a lot of paperwork. As a result, it is extremely important to prepare thoroughly for the application process.

If you’re not sure where to start, we have some suggestions on how you can stay organized and increase your chances of getting certified as a woman-owned business.

Preparing for Certification

There are many ways you can prepare for the women-owned business certification process. Continue scrolling to learn more. Additionally, you can read our full guide on how to become a certified woman-owned business.

What to Expect

Certification means your business has been verified as a majority woman-owned and run business by one of the trusted certifying agencies, and will create opportunities by placing you on a list of businesses to contract with local government and corporate projects.

Although there are a few certification programs, the main certification for those seeking to increase their growth is WOSB, run by the Small Business Association (SBA). In addition, there is a subset of the WOSB program called the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification.

Alternatively, business owners have the option to apply to one of the four SBA-approved third-party certifiers — the National Women’s Business Owners Corporation, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The application process may vary slightly depending on which type of certification you’re applying for, but overall, you will need to meet a specific criteria relating to your company’s size and ownership. For example, your business must adhere to the following guidelines to become a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB):

  • Qualify as a small business as per the SBA small business size standards, which generally use employee size and/or revenue as measures.
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens.
  • Be managed by women on a day-to-day basis. Women must also be the ones making long-term decisions for the company.
  • The highest officer position in the company must be held by a woman on a full-basis, during normal work hours.

Usually, you will submit the paperwork, along with some other general information about yourself and the application fee, through an online application (for some certifications, it needs to be mailed).

After submitting the necessary documents that prove your business meets these requirements, the agency’s certification committee will review your application. This can take anywhere from 15 to 90 days from when it is received. The agency will then reach out and may, depending on the type of certification, require a mandatory on-site visit (WBENC, for example, requires this). You will subsequently be notified about whether or not your application has been accepted.

Documents Needed for Women-Owned Business Certification

There are only a handful of reasons why your business would be denied certification: you did not meet the eligibility requirements, you failed to prove you control the company and run it independently, or you did not provide the requested documents. The majority of errors stem from clerical issues like missing paperwork, which is why you must pay close attention to the details of the application.

The first step is visiting the website for the specific certification you want. There, you will be able to find a checklist of the agency’s standards, procedures and requirements, which you should read carefully. Sometimes you’ll have to click onto the application, but oftentimes the required documents you need will be listed online.

The documents need to prove that your business meets the qualifications to become a certified woman-owned business. For the SBA’s WOSB certification, for example, you need the following paperwork:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate, naturalization paper or unexpired passport) for qualifying individual(s)
  • Active registration in the System for Award Management for the firm, which is available at SAM.gov (DUNS number and EIN, and MPIN must match SAM registration)
  • Joint Venture agreements (if applicable)
  • Corporation: Articles of Incorporation, copies of stock certificates (front and back), Stock Ledger, Corporate Bylaws and amendments
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): Operating Agreement, Articles of Organization/ Certificate of Organization (include any amendments)
  • Partnership: Partnership Agreement and any amendments
  • Sole Proprietor: DBA (Doing Business As) or Trade Name Certificate
  • Resume (optional)

As some of these documents require tracking down, we highly recommend you gather everything you need in advance. That way, the application process won’t take any longer than necessary.

If you are applying to become an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business, the materials needed are the same, except you will also need to provide personal financial information. These documents are required for each woman claiming economic disadvantage and for each woman’s spouse:

  • A completed and signed IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Tax Transcript
  • Three most recent personal income tax returns (IRS Form 1040) including all schedules
  • Three most recent W-2s
  • Detailed information regarding the value of all assets, liabilities, and income

Ask for Help

The trickiest part of the application process is the somewhat tedious paperwork. Once you’ve got that out of the way, it’s smooth sailing. The application is all and all straightforward and clear. If you do encounter issues along the way, however, you are not alone. There are a wealth of resources you can consult for help before, during, and after the application process.

If you have a quick question you want to ask an expert or encounter any issues with your application, the SBA has an email helpline specifically for woman-owned business applicants: WOSB@sba.gov. You can also visit the online Certify Knowledge Base which houses detailed information about the certification process and FAQs.

There is also the option to take advantage of the SBA’s copious in-person resources. In particular, the free counseling —provided in collaboration with SCORE Mentors, the Small Business Development Center, and Women’s Business Centers — through which entrepreneurs can receive one-on-one consultation through the certification process.

You can find the closest SBA branch online using the local assistance search. To find out more about when you can meet with an expert, contact your local SBA branch. Alternatively, other third-party certifying agencies, like the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, also have mentorship and counseling services.

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