Steps to Getting Your Business Certified
Certification as a Women's Business Enterprise (WBE) isn't just like joining a trade organization. There are two types of certification--either as a WBE, for entrepreneurs looking to supply private sector businesses, or as a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) for those looking to land government contracts. Take a look at the WBENC’s Corporate Members to get an idea of private sector interest in WBE sourcing.
Get started! Make sure that you meet the basic WBE criteria. The WBE certification process is designed to establish that your business is woman-owned and woman-run.
- The business going through the application process must be majority owned by a woman (or women).
- You must demonstrate that you are active decision-makers for the business.
- You must prove that your investment and/or skills drive the business, and that you perform your role independently.
- Female owners must either be US Citizens or have Resident Alien status.
Once you have established that your business meets those requirements, following these steps will help you move through the process. While certification can seem labor-intensive, the documents you'll need should be relatively easy to collect if you keep good, well-organized records.
- Do Your Homework. Before you begin, learn all you can about the certification process and the information you'll need to provide. Review the application instructions from a federally recognized third-party certifier. Three national certifiers are National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC), the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC), and the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WEBNC). Compare these organizations, their specific certification requirements, the costs, and what other services they offer.
- Get It Together. WBENC has a handy list of required documents. Some are easy to obtain (a birth certificate or passport to prove gender and citizenship, for example) and some will require more effort (rental/purchase agreements, financial statements, employee records). Work with your accountant or financial planner to collect some of these documents. Take a look at standards and procedures used by WBENC to evaluate WBE applications, as well as info on different types of certification on the NWBOC’s site. All the certifiers caution applicants to take care gathering these all-important documents before even beginning the application process.
- Complete the Application. Complete and submit the application according to the instructions for the specific certifying organization. The USWCC provides a checklist which will give you an idea of what’s entailed. Most will require that some information be submitted online and some be submitted by mail. Some will require notarized documents, so be sure to cover for those details. Pay any required fees at the time you submit the application.
- Hang In There. Your application will be assigned to a reviewer who will first assess it for completeness. You may be asked to provide supplemental materials at this phase.
- Strut Your Stuff. The certification committee will arrange for a visit to your place of business. Like the application, the visit is designed to confirm that your business is, in fact, woman-owned and operated.
- Don't Give Up. If for some reason your application is denied, you will be notified and informed about the appeals process.
- Show It Off. When you are approved as a WBE, you will be notified via e-mail. Once you get confirmation, announce your certification on your web site, in your company backgrounder, wherever you talk about your qualifications and certifications.
In 2015, government contracts awarded to WBEs reached $17.8 billion. As you move through this process, keep your eyes on the prize!