If you operate a small business and you are a woman, a minority, a military veteran, a person with a disability or a member of the LGBT community, corporate and government buyers might be looking for you. Federal, state and local governments, as well as corporations and nonprofits all, have goals for the percentage of business they award to diverse suppliers. If you’re not certified as a diverse supplier, you might be leaving money on the table.
3 Reasons to Get Certified
Going through the certification process can be daunting because of the amount of paperwork you’re required to fill out and the types of documents you need to gather. Why should you bother, especially if your company is already getting business without a special qualification? There are several ways becoming certified as a diverse supplier can make the effort worth your time, energy and resources. Among them:
1. Business development. Certification can help you scale your business more quickly. The largest and most innovative corporations and government agencies all have supplier diversity programs in place, and they take these very seriously. They are actively looking to diversify their supply chains by identifying and hiring companies like yours. Landing contracts with them can help you expand into different markets and increase your revenues.
2. Legitimacy. Certification by a third party provides proof of ownership, management, independence and control. The rigorous certification process weeds out companies that claim to qualify as diverse suppliers but are not. Additionally, corporate and government buyers realize if you have gone through the process, you are serious about growing your company. You’re likely to have more staying power than a “lifestyle” business that seeks to earn just enough to pay its owners on a regular basis. This distinction is important to larger organizations that want a steady, qualified supply chain.
3. Set yourself apart from the competition. Earning a certification does not guarantee larger contracts for your business. But it does put you on a special list for consideration against other vendors that don’t have the certification, which can give you a leg up on your competition.
Types of Certification
There are numerous third-party nonprofit and government organizations that certify companies for various types of diversity. Those include:
Women Business Enterprise (WBE), provided by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) in the U.S. and WEConnect International in other parts of the world.
Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) for federal contracting opportunities in the U.S.
LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE), provided to companies in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).
Ethnicity-based, provided nationally by the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and locally by the Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council (FSMSDC).
Veteran-owned, provided for veterans of all branches of the military
National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC).
National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA).
Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) certification by the U.S. General Services Administration.
Disability-owned, provided by Disability: IN.
Many state, county and local government entities certify vendors themselves. These government certifications work just like the third-party processes, with robust application and verification requirements.
The Certification Process
To qualify for certification, companies must be at least 51 percent owned by someone who meets the diversity requirements. The application process can take up to 90 days. During that time, the certifying organization reviews supporting documents and typically conducts a site visit at your place of business, even if that is your home. You will pay a fee to cover the time and expense of the certifying organization.
The application includes background on your business, your NAICS industry codes (from the North American Industry Classification System) and your management background. Supporting documents include articles of incorporation, annual reports, tax filings, occupational licenses, operating agreements and other proof that you own and operate the business.
Once your company is certified, you have access to a whole new world of opportunities that weren’t available to you before. Using your certification as a marketing tool to get you in front of the right buyers for your company is then up to you. The third-party certifying organizations are a big help in making introductions and welcoming you into a community of business owners like you who are happy to help pave the way to bigger contracts in your future.