Consumers have a plethora of choices when selecting a service or product provider, so a differentiated marketing strategy is a key to business success. One vital way to differentiate yourself from the pack by certifying your woman-, minority- or LGBT- (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender) owned company as a business that meets the exact criteria of several key certifying organizations. You can reap many rewards through this certification by contracting or partnering on projects with other certified businesses, and by becoming a potential bidder on corporate and public agency contracts.
Many of the Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, through their supplier diversity initiatives, have annual diversity spend goals. These goals serve to promote the inclusion of diverse suppliers (that’s you!) into their supply chain. This fosters a mutually positive relationship between the corporations and M/WBEs (Minority/Women Business Enterprise). The Fortunes benefit greatly from utilizing diverse suppliers and the suppliers grow their businesses through lucrative new contracts. These M/WBEs are often more cost-effective and offer an expanded customer base and market share for the corporations who contract with them. Diversity-owned businesses tend to have greater access to emerging markets in urban and global arenas and make outstanding contributions to the economic viability of the communities in which they are located.
State agencies also have diversity initiatives they must satisfy by contracting out to M/WBEs. These certified suppliers bid on jobs in construction and related trades, janitorial services and supplies, landscape management services, subscriptions, internet technology and data management, and so many more.
Being a certified diverse supplier proffers a competitive advantage because these large organizations can only count their diversity spend with certified suppliers. Therefore, actively seeking out the appropriate certification for your business is a key to winning these contracts.
Certification Organizations and How They Work
The three primary organizations that offer third-party certifications to minority-owned businesses are: the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). Businesses should complete the application process for all of the organizations that apply to them. Businesses that meet the organization requirements should complete the application process for all applicable certifications.
- WBENC issues a Gold Standard national certification to women-owned businesses to ensure a qualified database of WBENC Certified Women Business Enterprises (WBEs).
- NMSDC’s rigorous certification process is considered to be the superior avenue for certifying minority-owned businesses by corporate America.
- NGLCC, while new to the diversity certification world, is making a great impact through its certification of LGBT-owned businesses.
Regardless of the organization, the application process is very worthwhile to undergo. It ensures that the M/WBE that presents itself to a corporate buyer is truly minority‐owned, or woman-owned -controlled and ‐operated. Standards have an importance in everything that we do; diversity certification is no exception.
The Application Process
Each organization has a unique online application to complete and a list of required documents to submit. Once the paperwork has been received by your regional office:
- Its staff completes a desk audit of the application, which is…
- Submitted to the Certification Committee to determine if the application is eligible for a site visit, after which…
- The application returns to the Certification Committee for approval or denial.
While this appears to be simple, the actual packaging of the application is rigorous and extremely detailed. Tax returns, W2’s, revenues, and start-up information are some of the documentation that must be submitted. Some business owners hire consultants who specialize in expediting all the necessary paperwork and manage the certification process for them so they are not distracted from their businesses.
Benefits of Becoming Certified
Certified businesses are able to position themselves for opportunities in corporate supply chains. Although certification is no guarantee of getting business, it does increase the chances and enables you to compete for these contracts. Many companies’ supplier diversity initiative employees are true advocates for M/WBEs; diversity certification can help solidify the connection, assuring that those firms get requests for proposals and have their opportunity to shine.
Certified businesses also gain access to a current list of supplier diversity and procurement executives at hundreds of major U.S. corporations and federal, state and local government entities. They receive national recognition and opportunities to pursue business deals with corporations as well as other M/WBEs. These benefits should not be overlooked, especially when competition is tougher than ever.
Partnership opportunities are another huge benefit. Quite often a M/WBE may be able to fulfill most of what an RFP asks for, but cannot do the entire project alone due to its size or capabilities. By partnering with another certified M/WBE, the corporation still gets the full value of its expenditure and two M/WBEs have business, a win-win scenario. Businesses must be patient after attaining certification, as it normally takes time to see results. However, those results can be compelling. One WBE reports that in the past five months she has been
introduced to eight Fortune 1000 companies and is in conversation with them; prior to becoming certified, she could not get them on the phone!
Doing Business with the Federal Government
Majority women-owned businesses are not required to obtain third-party certification to do business with the federal government, and there is no federal certification process as with WBENC, NMSDC or NGLCC. They can self-certify in the Central Contractor Registration at www.ccr.gov.
Each state provides its own WBE or MBE certification and WBENC covers all 50 states (some state agencies will accept the WBENC certification in lieu of a state certification). If your business is already WBENC-certified, you can fast – track your state certification in some cases. Go here for more information: http://www.wpeo.us/certification/public_sector_certification.html.
The SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program, enacted in February 2011, will provide greater, more equal access to federal contracting opportunities for WOSBs and economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses—if the contract deliverables fall within selected NAICS codes that represent industries in which woman-owned businesses are underrepresented or severely under-represented in federal government contracting. You can read full details about this important legislation at
Certifying your business creates a partnership with supplier diversity departments and a powerful path to building revenues, expanding your customer base, and improving your bottom line.
About The Author
Heather Cox is the Co-Founder of Certify My Company which provides certification assistance to diverse business owners by guiding and assisting them through the arduous process of becoming certified as a Women Business Enterprise (WBE), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), or LGBT-owned business. As well, we serve supplier diversity managers looking to capture more diversity spend.
For more information call (973) 272-4159 or go to www.certifymycompany.org.