Is it time to consider becoming a certified women-owned business? According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States today. A percentage of these businesses seek certified women-owned business status, which helps make them eligible for exclusive government contract options and certain initiatives with public corporations. If you’re interested in learning more about this important pathway to growth for women-led companies, here’s a closer look at what you need to know.
What Is a Certified Women-Owned Business?
According to the Small Business Administration, the federal government’s goal is to award at least five percent of federal contracting money each year to women-owned businesses. In addition, many large corporations have specific procurement programs that seek to do business with certified firms.
There are two certifications that offer women business owners access to resources and potential business from government contracts that can help foster future growth. These include:
- Women-Owned Small Business (WOSM): In order to qualify as a WOSM, your company needs to meet a number of qualifications including but not limited to the following: the company is at least 51% owned by a woman, a woman manages the day-to-day operations, and she must work full-time at the business.
- Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB): The EDWOSB program was developed to help women from certain disadvantaged populations gain additional access to resources that drive business growth. In addition to qualifying for the same criteria as a certified women-owned small business, there are a number of income and asset-based criteria that are factored in.
In order to qualify, there are a number of criteria that you must meet. First and foremost, verify that you’re a small business according to the government’s definition. The SBA created an easy-to-use verification tool where you can answer a few questions and get their determination. From there, consider consulting a comprehensive resource on the latest criteria and guidelines for each category as the one provided by The National Women’s Business Council.
How Does Certification Work?
If you meet the criteria and have decided that certification makes sense for your business model, getting started is easy.While the process of becoming a certified women-owned business has been clearly documented, it can be lengthy, and it’s important to have a plan. There are multiple requirements and certification stages to go through, but businesses that complete the process often find it’s worth the investment.
To get started, create a profile on the System for Award Management. From there, you’ll need to make a key decision. Will you self-certify or will you go through one of the four organizations that are authorized to take you through the certification process? Those organizations include:
- El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- National Women Business Owners Corporation
- US Women’s Chamber of Commerce
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council
There are two key differences between self-certification and third-party certification. The first is cost. Self-certifying is free, but in exchange you do all the work of gathering paperwork, submitting forms, and answering questions. A third-party certification includes a fee, but the partner agency can guide you through the process and may help with some of the administration and submission processes.
Either way, you’ll need to create a profile on Certify.SBA.gov. If you go the self-certify route, you’ll answer the necessary questions and then scan and upload the required documentation. If you choose a third-party certification, they’ll walk you through the process and eventually you’ll need to upload your certification data to the portal. It’s important to note that there is an annual process to ensure that you’re still eligible to participate in the program.
The Advantages of Being a Certified Women-Owned Business
Just to quickly revisit, there are several core benefits that small businesses can receive by taking part in this program:
- The first is eligibility to compete for government contracts that have been set aside for this purpose.
- The second is the potential to do business with larger companies that support WOSMs. As one expert said in an interview with Forbes, “Most public corporations as well as local, state, and federal government purchasing agencies have programs for allotting a certain percentage of business to women-owned companies.”
- Finally, if you’re certified through a third-party agency, that may give you access to resources, mentoring, and networking opportunities provided through that organization.
Why Technology Is Critical in the Process
Technology is critical to the certification process, and having access to the right tools can make the application process easier. In addition to simplifying the process, technology can help women-owned small businesses succeed in other key ways:
- Leveraging certification in your digital footprint: When you’re designated as a WOSM or EDWOSM, that becomes a powerful part of your brand. Digital properties, social media accounts, logos, and product packaging can feature the WOSM logo. It’s a powerful testament to the process your business has gone through, and can help attract additional customers and business.
- Taking part in networking and educational opportunities: If you opted for third-party certification, some organizations offer mentoring, networking, and educational resources through online platforms. Access to the right technology makes it easier to take part on these opportunities, and help maximize the value of your certification.
- Supporting scale and growth: As new opportunities for growing your business appear, it’s important to evaluate whether your infrastructure offers the support you need to scale. For example, investing in cloud computing solutions can make it easier to add new software packages or additional storage as your client base grows. Explore what technology investments will help you make the most of the new opportunities you’re cultivating as a certified business.
- Streamlining workloads through automation: The reality for many small businesses is that they face heavy workloads, and often have to complete extensive to-do lists with few resources. Technology can help automate routine tasks, whether it’s sending reminders on overdue invoices or processing incoming data from clients automatically. Assess your workflow and systems to find opportunities to use automation that can help you save time, be more efficient, and ultimately free you up to focus on strategic and client-facing activities.
- Supporting mobility: It’s important to have the ability to get work done from anywhere in today’s always on and connected business landscape. The right mobility tools will enable you to work with clients or address emergencies whether you’re traveling for business, at a client site, or simply responding after hours. It’s important to have three systems in place: the right hardware, cloud-based access to key applications, and a flexible cloud-based storage system that lets you securely access your data from any approved device. The right technology infrastructure helps ensure that you’re projecting the organized, strategic, and responsive brand image that makes you a great business partner.
For many women-owned small businesses, getting certified can open up doors to new business, expand their reach, and provide access to new communities for learning and networking. The right technology and strategic planning can help you capture maximum value from that process. Learn more today, and decide whether certification can help you take your small business to the next level.