I love opening emails like this one I received today from Bank Of America. The opportunities are abundant and so we need to find them and take them. This is definitely a must read and share with other professional women!
Woman and minority business owners play a vital role in driving economic growth, yet they continue to face challenges accessing capital and resources. Receiving certification as a woman- and/or minority-owned business can help improve access to new funding opportunities. It also gives access to public and private programs designed to grow and sustain woman- and minority-owned businesses.
Below are some of the benefits of certification as well as the various options available to small business owners who identify as a woman and/or minority.
Benefits of certification as a woman- and/or minority-owned small business
Getting certified brings new opportunities from federal agencies, state and local governments, and certain large corporations, which typically designate a percentage of contracts for woman- and minority-owned businesses. With certification often comes exclusive networking, training and educational programs for business owners. Certification may make you eligible for loans specifically designated for women and minorities. All in all, it can be a big win for many businesses.
What businesses are best suited for certification?
Certification is most beneficial for businesses in industries that contract with the government and large corporate clients. Think about the nature of your business and your target audience. If your small business mostly sells goods to consumers from a storefront or online, for example, certifying your company may not influence your business as much as if your customer is the government or a corporation.
What are the options for certification?
There are several programs offered by local and federal governments, as well as third parties. Here are a few of the most common and widely accepted:
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers the 8(a) Business Development Program for small businesses whose owners are socially or economically disadvantaged.
To qualify, businesses must meet several criteria, including—but not limited to—being majority owned (at least 51% percent) and controlled by individuals who, according to federal law, “have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias…because of their identities as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities.”
For more information on how to apply, visit: sba.gov/8(a)
Minority Business Enterprise
One of the largest and most widely recognized diversity certifications is the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Certification issued by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).
To qualify as an MBE, businesses must be at least 51% owned by members of minority groups as defined by the NMSDC as Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic or Native.
For more information on how to apply, visit: nmsdc.org/mbes
Women’s Business Enterprise
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) provides the most widely recognized certification for women-owned businesses in the U.S. The Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) network includes more than 18,000 women-owned businesses, more than 450 Corporate Members and 14 Regional Partner Organizations.
To qualify as a WBENC-Certified Women’s Business Enterprise your business needs to be at least 51% owned, controlled, operated and managed by women.
For more information on how to apply, visit: wbenc.org/certification/
Things to keep in mind when considering certification
Each entity that certifies businesses will operate a little differently, so eligibility, processes, requirements and guidelines will vary. What’s required will also depend on what kind of entity your business is and where you’re applying, such as a local or state government.
The standard throughout is the need for some major documentation, so prepare yourself for some paperwork — including, but not limited to, your tax returns, profit and loss statement, and balance sheet — and submit your application (typically online). For the SBA, you’ll also need to show an active registration in the System for Award Management for the business, available at SAM.gov.
After you’ve submitted your application and supporting documents, certification can take up to 90 days to be completed.
While the SBA’s online certification process is free, most certifying organizations base their application fees on your company’s revenue and region. These fees can range from around $300-$1,300.
State and local government certifications
Local and state governments also offer certification programs. Check with your city and state government agencies that work with businesses (such as its economic development agency) for information on how to apply.
Identifying opportunities as a certified business
Once you’re certified, you’ll want to take advantage of the new opportunities that may now be available to you. Work it! Start hunting on city, state, and company websites for opportunities to bid on work. Some offer free e-newsletters advertising new projects.
What should be done after certification?
You have bragging rights, so make sure you mention your new certification on your website, social media, marketing materials and in your email signature. Send out a press release announcing your achievement to your industry association’s newsletters. If you have your own external newsletter, be sure to include it there.
Keep in mind, too, that your work is not finished once certified. You’ll need to maintain certification each year. Stay on top of what you need to do to stay compliant, so you’re always ready to jump on new opportunities.