President at Bishop-Wisecarver, leveraging 70 years of success to deliver innovative motion solutions for customers worldwide.
It’s been 10 years since the 71-year-old manufacturing company I lead earned the right to say it is a “certified woman-owned business.” This certification is respected, well known, highly sought after and the benefits are significant. But it doesn’t come easy. The rigorous application process is legendary, and I am often asked: Is it worth it? Is it helpful? Is spending all the time and effort applying going to provide a notable ROI?
My answer is always the same: Yes, yes and yes. As one of the few female leaders in my industry, I can say unequivocally that being certified as a woman-owned business has been integral to my company’s continued success.
Increased Numbers = Increased Competition
In a report from American Express, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. increased by 21% to a total of nearly 13 million during a 5-year period from 2012-2019. These companies also grew their revenue by 21%, which represents huge growth and a reason to celebrate on multiple fronts.
Clearly, the business world is embracing greater diversity in the marketplace, which brings new ideas and opportunities. However, it also means more competition. While there are numerous business quotes I could mention around the phrase “competition is healthy,” the reality is that each woman-owned business needs to help distinguish her company as the best option. Certification helps potential customers quickly make the distinction between a certified woman-owned business and one that is not, which I believe provides a better chance at winning their business.
It’s All About New Business Opportunities
Finding more customers and increasing revenues is the top priority for all business owners, and being certified woman-owned opens up designated opportunities from the private business sector and the government. Simply put, certification can help create a more equitable marketplace.
Federal Government: On the federal side, the government has a goal of leveling the playing field on certain contracts, with a mandate of awarding at least 5% of all contracting dollars to women-owned businesses each year. That equals billions of dollars of opportunity at the local, state and federal level and only includes those women-owned businesses that have been certified. While signing a large federal contract might not be a reality based on the current size of your business, starting smaller, at the local level, could provide an opportunity to set yourself up for those larger contracts in the future. Software programs now allow for the tracking of diverse dollars at the higher levels, and there are more opportunities than ever to get specified into these large projects.
Private Business: In the private sector, I’ve observed that companies are more committed to doing business with women-owned companies, particularly due to the rise and popularity of supplier diversity programs, often driven by shareholder goals. In these programs, companies set aside a percentage of their purchases to be done only with diverse businesses, and choosing from companies already certified speeds up their selection process. Just by being certified, your company gets placed in the “possible” category instead of never being considered or seen. In fact, in a recent report, 75% of companies with supplier diversity programs found their diverse companies through certification agencies. Don’t miss that number! Companies are looking first at who is certified, and you want to be on that list. In that same report, those working in the supplier diversity programs mentioned how much they enjoy helping smaller diverse companies compete with Fortune 500 companies — and win.
For my company, even if we don’t win a contract at the federal or private level, it still gives us greater visibility into new opportunities. While some contracts can take months or years before they happen, conversations continue during that time. Because our business name has been front and center during these processes, some of those long-term investments have paid off in the largest contracts. Also, businesses and federal employees talk with each other, and we’ve been given referrals to new companies and agencies from our internal contacts. Thus, even if these contacts don’t turn into customers overnight, they each remain a possible lead and often provide invaluable connections to other opportunities.
The Importance Of Women Business Leader Organizations
Also, while not required for certification, I strongly recommend that fellow women-owned business leaders join and participate in organizations that promote our advancement. Many of these groups provide opportunities for members to have one-on-one meetings with large corporations and provide peer networking, matchmaker events, training, insight into business trends and help with the certification process.
How To Get Certified
You can find specific certification requirements at multiple sites, including the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), but let me include some quick basics. There are two main certifications: Women Owned Small Business (WOSBs), which also includes Economically Disadvantaged WOSBs, and Woman Business Enterprise. Both of these are equally valid, and some businesses, like mine, have both.
You must be certified by an SBA-approved third-party certifier (TPC) or you must self-certify in accordance with current SBA regulations (though not all agencies or corporations will accept self-certification). There are four SBA-approved TPCs, and you should review each for details on their membership requirements and fees:
• El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
• National Women Business Owners Corporation
• U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce
• Women’s Business Enterprise National Council
One additional benefit for some of the TPCs is that they will help guide you through the certification process.
Yes, It’s Worth It
Take the time and become certified. Yes, the process is time-consuming. Yes, you may feel like you are drowning in paperwork and data collection. Yes, you have to apply for recertification every year. However, it’s absolutely, positively worth it to help you, your business and other women-owned businesses have their greatest opportunity at success. The stringent application process maintains a high level of respect and recognition for the program, so my answer is always “yes” when it comes to certification.