The Importance and Benefits of Small Business Certifications
There are many important benefits and advantages available to businesses owned by women and/or minorities, but in order to qualify for them a business must become certified as a minority- or woman-owned enterprise. Connections, marketing assistance, and technical training are just some of the benefits that come with certification, says Susan Rittscher, president and CEO of the Center for Women & Enterprise, the New England affiliate of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, a leading certifier of women-owned businesses. (Others include the National Women Business Owners Corporation and the National Association of Women Business Owners.)
“First and foremost, if the diverse-owned business is interested in pursuing bids or contracts with a large corporation with a supplier diversity program, a state agency, or a federal agency, they must be certified in order to count toward supplier diversity goals,” Rittscher says. Another benefit of certification is connections to other certified businesses, which can be a powerful network of potential partners, clients, and advisors and mentors. “Certification is a strong marketing and selling tool for business owners when leveraged effectively,” she adds. Certified businesses may also have access to exclusive programs and services such as professional development workshops and networking and matchmaking events.
Tom Greco, vice president of ThomasNet.com, a free platform with a database of more than 610,000 companies, notes that there are many different ownership/diversity certifications that provide a competitive advantage to qualifying companies, and many businesses and government agencies are anxious to do business with them. “Indeed, 72 percent of buyers recently surveyed by CAPS, a research arm of the Institute for Supply Management, said they would be increasing their spending with diverse suppliers. Diverse businesses include Women-Owned Businesses and Minority-Owned Businesses as well as Veteran-Owned Businesses, Small Disadvantaged Businesses, HUBZone Businesses, and Service-Disabled Veteran Businesses,” he says.
While the process for obtaining various kinds of certification varies, Greco suggests that a business seeking any of the certifications mentioned above start by self-registering with the federal government’s System for Awards Management (SAM), since that is a requirement for most types of certification. Next, seek out one of the major certification organizations for your diversity group—such as WBENC for a women-owned business or the National Minority Supplier Development Council for a minority-owned firm. In most cases, minority-owned business certification falls under the purview of the individual states. Check out this useful list of certifying agencies by state to learn more.
It is important to note that in order to qualify for minority- or women-owned certification, the business must not only be owned by minorities or women but also controlled by them, says Dean dt ogilvie [ed. note: lack of capitalization is intentional and should be retained], the dean and a professor of business strategy at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business. “They have to be the ones making the decisions about strategy, business, and structure. They can’t just be figureheads to get the certification,” she warns. Owners must provide required documentation to prove ownership and control; they must have contributed capital and/or expertise to the business; they must be U.S. citizens (or, for some programs, resident aliens); and they must be independent in decision-making, Rittscher says.
Lisa Firestone is president and owner of Managed Care Advisors (MCA), a woman-owned employee benefits and disability management consulting and workers’ compensation case management firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, and she believes certifications and the set-asides to which they provide access play an important role in leveling the playing field for companies like hers. MCA is a certified minority business enterprise in Maryland and several other states and a WBENC-certified woman-owned business. In 2012 it also became certified as an Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business. “Honestly, before my business entered into government contracting, certifications and set-asides were unfamiliar concepts, and ones that made me a bit uncomfortable,” she says. “But what I have learned is that there really is no ‘special consideration,’ but just an opportunity to level the playing field and compete effectively. Certifications can get your business noticed, but they are not a direct conduit to a contract. You still have to get out there, compete for that business, and win it.”