Women-Owned Business Certification in a Nutshell
Certification adds credibility to your business by verifying that you run a majority woman-owned company. Your business is assessed and certified by one of the few official certifying agencies. As a woman-owned certified business, you’ll have access to local government or corporate projects.
Women who seek to increase their growth, can achieve certification through the WOSB, which is run by the Small Business Association (SBA). An additional subset of the WOSB program is the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification.
Alternatively, business-owners have the option of using one of the four SBA-approved third-party certifiers:
- National Women’s Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC)
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
- U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC)
- El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (EPHCC)
Certification is not for life, so you will have to apply to renew every year and pay a non-refundable processing fee which varies by agency. Thankfully, most certifying agencies will send you an email reminder a few months beforehand, and the process requires much less paperwork than the initial application.
Making the Most of Certification
“Remember, as well, that simply getting certified as a woman-owned business isn’t a guarantee you’ll get new business,” reads a post by Accion, the nation’s largest non-profit lender. “Yes, it can open doors for you, but you still have to do the work, promote your company, and follow through to close the sale.”
Though certification facilitates ample opportunities to grow your business, the extent to which this happens depends entirely on you. Be aware of the various benefits of certification and the ways in which you can best take advantage of them.
Get Government Dollars
Whether you choose to certify through the SBA or use one of the third-party agencies, the core benefit certification brings is access to new contracting opportunities. The U.S. government has a concrete goal of awarding “at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small business as a result.” Certification allows you the opportunity to access billions of government dollars set aside specifically for women-owned businesses.
To do this, you will need to first determine your North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code, which identifies your industry and is used by contracting agencies to find relevant opportunities. Then, you’ll also need to request your DUNS ID number from Dun & Bradstreet. Finally, you have to register your business in the System for Award Management (SAM), the database government agencies use to find contractors.
The best way to take advantage of access to increased contracting opportunities is by keeping a close eye on what’s available. If you register with the FedBizOpps database, you can receive notifications when new government contracts and subcontracting opportunities arise. Additionally, you should frequently search the government’s Contracting Opportunity Finder search tool.
SmallBizDaily recommends looking into subcontracting before contracting. “Subcontracting to prime contractors of corporate or government clients is a good way to learn the ropes before attempting to bid on a prime contract,” writes SmallBizDaily. “It will also help you build a track record of success.”
Another useful tip is to get on the mailing list for third-party certification organizations because many private sector companies and government agencies will send information about contracting opportunities to these lists. Your next contract could be as simple as subscribing to a mailing list.
Events and Networking
Outside of the obvious financial benefit of certification, one of the best things about becoming a certified woman-owned business is the opportunity it allows for networking and mentorship. Each certifying agency has its own programs, but the majority throw events and networking sessions throughout the year to help women expand their contact lists and business opportunities.
The WBENC, for example, hosts Matchmaker Meetings, two times a year, where you can have one-on-one conversations with the organization’s big-name National Corporate Members and federal, state, and local government members. The WBENC also has NextGen, a networking series for millennial entrepreneurs. The NWBOC, on the other hand, holds conferences throughout the year where women can meet corporate and government suppliers.
Attend all of the events you possibly can and take advantage of mentorship programs. It’s incredibly rare for early-stage entrepreneurs to find themselves in the same room as powerful industry leaders, which is exactly what many of these programs facilitate.
Every networking event may not be a major success for you and your company, but it’s a way for you to slowly grow your circle of support. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find your next customer there. Prepare like you would for any event by getting your pitch and talking points perfected.
Marketing and Promotion
Another great way to take advantage of your certification is by letting other people know that you have it. Promote your certification by adding it to your website, media kit, social media, and any other place you can think of. You can do this by simply writing that your business is certified or by reaching out to your certifying agency to see if they have an official marker. For example, the WBENC has a certified WBE seal businesses can use to showcase their status. There is also a Women Owned Logo that you can use on retail packaging.
You can also promote your business through applying for awards. There are a number of awards that you can only apply for once your business has been certified. The WBENC alone has information about four different awards that business owners can apply to, which will facilitate broader recognition and potentially expanded opportunities.
These are just a few of the ways you can make the most of your shiny, new business certification. The best advice we have is to thoroughly read the website of your certifying agency so you can be aware of all the benefits accompanying your certification and avoid missing out on profitable opportunities.