How To Get Certified As A Woman Owned Business

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In the business community, we often discuss businesses that are owned by women, and talk about the special programs and contract opportunities that exist for them. But how does a business get the right to call itself women-owned in these more formal situations? Is it enough that a woman is at the helm of the business?

While that might be enough for informal declarations, to qualify for special programs that target women owners or to be counted as women-owned businesses for federal contracts, certification is required.

What is certification?

Certification is the process of going through the various requirements that define women-owned businesses, either for small businesses (Women-Owned Small Businesses, WOSB) or the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBE) for larger businesses. Completing this certification process means that neither the businesses nor the organizations they need to interact with have to verify this information independently each time they work with a company. For many companies, especially federal companies, the number of businesses owned by women that they work with is tracked.

Being certified as a business owned by women gives these companies new access to both contracts and markets. But before starting the extensive certification process, businesses are well served to look at the criteria and ensure they qualify.

Importance of Certification for Women-Owned Businesses

Women-owned businesses are carving out their unique space, and certification plays a pivotal role in this journey. Certification is a formal process that validates a business as women-owned, opening doors to special programs, contracts, and opportunities. But why is this certification so crucial? Businesses owned by women often face challenges in obtaining funding and being taken seriously in their pursuit of significant contracts.

Certification helps level the playing field, allowing women entrepreneurs to compete for lucrative federal contracts and grow their businesses. In fact, women-owned businesses have been key drivers of financial recovery since the last crisis, making certification not just a personal achievement but a societal advancement.

The importance of certification for women-owned businesses transcends mere recognition; it’s a strategic move that can shape the future of a business. Whether it’s local, state, or federal certification, each level offers unique benefits and access to different markets. For instance, federal certification opens doors to high-reward federal contracts, while local certification helps tap into community-based opportunities. The decision to choose the right certification level is a complex one, and it must align with the business’s goals and vision.

Women entrepreneurs looking to make their mark must weigh the pros and cons, consult with experts, and choose the path that resonates with their aspirations. The certification process, though intricate and time-consuming, is a gateway to growth, expansion, and equality in the business world. It’s not just a label; it’s a powerful tool that empowers women entrepreneurs to thrive and contribute significantly to the economy. While certification is often associated with larger enterprises, even a one-person business can benefit from becoming certified, as it can provide a competitive edge when bidding for contracts.

Certification Criteria for WOSB

To qualify as a women-owned small business, a company must:

  • Have 51% or more ownership or control by women. This can be more than one woman; several women together could work with male partners, as long as the women own and control more than 51%.
  • Women must be U.S. citizens.
  • Their business must meet the SBA standard of “small” in its primary industry.
  • If the business is also economically disadvantaged, they must provide proof of this as well.

Certification Criteria for WBE

To qualify as a woman business enterprise, the company must meet the first two criteria above, as well as:

  • A woman must be CEO and President (if both of these positions exist within the company)
  • This same woman must have been in the owner or officer position for at least six months and must be involved in the daily operation.

How Do Businesses Get Certified?

There are two simple options for getting your business certified as a women-owned business. The first is self-certification. The Small Business Administration (SBA) now allows businesses to begin and often complete their certification online, filling out the initial application and then adding supporting documents as necessary.

Especially if you’re trying to get certified, start the process early! Pulling together the appropriate documentation can take time, and many times, additional paperwork is necessary.

If you are involved with your local SBA chapter or Chamber of Commerce, talk to them about getting certified. Many states and local agencies have programs to help businesses get the kinds of certifications that help them grow and obtain better contracts and assistance. Many states also track the demographics of contractors, and having women and minority-owned businesses working with them can help them out in a myriad of ways.

There are also third-party certification companies that help businesses through the certification process. Four companies have been approved by the SBA to help businesses become certified. Ultimately, they can help companies determine the right certification level for them (local, state, or federal) and then help them collect the right paperwork and answer questions properly. This can streamline the process and make it easier for companies to get certified.

The amount of paperwork that needs to be completed in these initial phases can be extremely intimidating. The good news for businesses is that the annual recertification paperwork is significantly less overwhelming. Unless your business changes dramatically from year to year, you shouldn’t need to complete a larger amount of paperwork every year. Some certification groups can even complete two-year certifications.

How to Choose the Right Certification Level: Local, State, or Federal

Navigating the intricate path of certification for a woman-owned business can be a daunting task. The decision to choose the right certification level – local, state, or federal – is pivotal in shaping the future prospects of the business. Let’s unravel this complex choice together.

Local Certification: Ideal for women entrepreneurs looking to tap into local markets and community-based opportunities. It’s generally easier to obtain and less costly. However, it may limit the business’s reach to a specific geographical area.

State Certification: This level broadens the horizons, allowing businesses to compete for state contracts and grants. It’s a balanced choice, offering more opportunities than local certification but without the rigorous demands of federal certification.

Federal Certification: The pinnacle of business certification, this level opens doors to lucrative federal contracts. It’s the most challenging and time-consuming to obtain but offers the highest rewards.

In the end, the choice boils down to understanding your business’s needs and aligning them with the right certification level. Local certification might be the perfect starting point for a small business looking to make a mark in the community. State certification could be the next step for growth, while federal certification is for those aiming for the top echelons of the business world. Assess the pros and cons, consult with experts if needed, and choose the path that resonates with your business goals and vision.

Women-owned businesses have always been an important part of the economy, but in the decade since the financial crisis, businesses owned by women have dramatically increased in number and size. According to some analysts, businesses that are run and owned by women and minorities have been the primary drivers of the financial recovery.

Businesses owned by women often face systematic challenges in gathering funding, being taken seriously when pursuing large contracts, and in most spheres that relate to business growth. Becoming certified as a woman-owned business can help companies compete at the highest levels of lucrative federal contracts, allowing them to continue to expand and level out the marketplace for those businesses being formed in their wake.


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