You’d think owning a small business and being a woman would be enough to get the attention of customers willing to support women-owned businesses. You’re a woman. You own a business. Sounds simple, right? The truth of the matter is that in order to get access to certain government and business contracts, you often need the right stamp of approval. That is, you need to get certified as having a woman-owned small business before you can reap the benefits.
Distinguishing yourself from the many other small businesses out there is tricky enough already. But leaning into and celebrating the fact that you’re a woman-owned small business can open new doors of opportunity.
What does it mean to get certified as a woman-owned business?
Getting certified as a women-owned small business essentially means you’ve submitted the proper paperwork and documentation about your company to a third-party for review. The entity that goes through your application makes sure that you’re a legitimate business and that the key stakeholder in the company is, indeed, a woman. This can mean, for example, that you own at least 51 percent of the company and that you run the day-to-day operations for the business. There are different certification bodies with their own requirements and application procedures, but this is primarily what they’re looking for.
Note that most certification processes require a birth certificate, naturalization papers, or passport. If your gender identity is not accurately reflected in these documents, The National Center On Transgender Equality’s ID Documents Center is a great resource for navigating the process of updating your identification.
What are the benefits of getting certified as a woman-owned small business (WOSB)?
Generally-speaking, if you’re thinking about working with the government in any way, then getting it’s worth at least looking into getting certified as a women-owned small business (WOSB). You can do this through the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce or another approved third-party certifier. The benefits of getting certified as a WOSB include being able to pursue public sector work and any “set-asides” the government has. Every year, the U.S. government aims to award at least five percent of its contract funds to women-owned small business.
It might seem like a small set-aside, but since the goal was established in 1994, the government didn’t meet it until 2016. A study by the Commerce Department that same year showed women are 21 percent less likely than similar companies to earn a government contract. Getting certified by a third-party as a WOSB can help you stand out among the pool of applicants. It will also qualify you for those government set-asides.
What are the benefits of getting certified if I want to work with private companies?
If you’re interested in working with corporations in the private sector, consider getting certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). It’s the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the U.S. It’s also respected among large, private companies, many of which have initiatives in place to fund or work with women-owned companies. Getting the WBENC stamp of approval is one way to help you stand out among applicants.
There are also plenty of networking opportunities available once you become certified. A certifying body, whether national or local, might hold networking events or workshops. You can then network with other businesses owners to meet potential clients, contractors, vendors, or other entrepreneurs. Some certifying parties will also feature your business in their database. Which means, of course, it’ll be that much easier for companies looking for contracting partners to find you. And you’ll be able to use the designation in your marketing materials.
How do I do it?
There are a lot different third-party certifiers for women-owned small businesses. Among them is the Small Business Administration, which lists four different organizations approved for certification. They include the National Women Business Owners Corporation, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
Your best bet is to look up any local branches of any women’s business center in your city. You’ll learn about local certification programs and be able to ask questions about the benefits of each third-party organization. Note, however, that the process is by no means a swift one. Prepare for a lot of paperwork.