Women are thriving in the small business arena. According to a 2019 study by American Express, 42 percent of all U.S. businesses are women-owned. When combined, woman-owned businesses generate over $1.9 trillion a year, or 10% of our national economy.
As a female entrepreneur, there are business opportunities available to those who have an official woman-owned business (WOB) designation. Many government agencies and companies support entrepreneurs by earmarking certain contracts just for woman-owned businesses. The federal government, for example, commits to an annual goal to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to WOBs. They want you to get ahead, and getting certified puts you in a position to compete for a broader range of projects and contracts.
This article provides resources needed to apply for certification and advice for making the process move along more smoothly. Here is what we’ll talk about:
What’s available to woman-owned businesses
- Qualification requirements
- Helpful tips when you’re ready to apply
- Maintaining the certification over time
- Which woman-owned business certifications are available?
To obtain a woman-owned business certification, your business will be vetted and designated as eligible to receive opportunities specified for underrepresented groups. This certification makes the process of awarding contracts easier. Learn about the following popular woman-owned business certifications or programs at the national level:
Administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA)
- Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB)
- Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB)
- 8(a) Business Development Program
- Small Disadvantaged Business
- Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification by U.S. Department of Transportation
- Women Business Enterprise (WBE) and Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) through the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC)
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification
You can apply for certification directly through the SBA and Department of Transportation. Upon approval, your business will be eligible for hundreds of government contracts. The NWBOC and WBENC are third-party certifiers for the SBA’s WOSB and/or EDWOSB certifications. You can apply through those organizations as well, but there is a fee. The WBE certification, MBE, and WBENC are accepted by many corporations as well as some states, cities and other entities.
In addition, your city, county and state may also offer similar certification programs. Some agencies accept a national certification, but you’ll have to check each program’s website for details and eligibility requirements.
Qualifications for woman-owned business certification
Many of the certifications and programs share common requirements, such as:
- Qualify as a small business as defined by the certifying organization
- Your business must be least 51 percent women-owned and controlled
To determine whether your company qualifies as a small business, some applications have you enter your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) six-digit code and annual revenues. The 51 percent requirement means the company is “unconditionally owned and controlled” by one or more women who were born in the U.S. or are naturalized citizens.
Depending on the certification, other qualifications may apply. For example, the net worth of the woman or women controlling the business must be less than $750,000 (each).
Tips for the application process
When you’re ready to apply for certification, keep the following in mind:
- Qualification: Visit each website and review the certification criteria to make sure your business qualifies. For certifications aimed more toward company contracts, find out if the corporations you’d like to work with are listed.
- Application fees: Ensure you understand the total amount (if any) required application fees. For example, self-certification through the Small Business Administration as a WOSB or EDWOSB is free. Certifications through NWBOC, like the WBE certification and WOSB, cost a flat $400. The cost of WBENC certification is based on the small business’s revenue category, with fees starting at $350 for revenues under $1 million.
- Required documentation: Gather all of the required documents. This may include your certificate of incorporation, articles of incorporation, bylaws, profit and loss statements, tax returns, stock and investment statements, relevant business licenses, and resumes of key staff.
- Links and assistance: Applications are typically online, so use the links listed earlier to apply for certifications that are relevant to your business. The certification programs typically have experts available to help you through the application process, so ask for help if needed.
After submitting your application, some certification entities may want to conduct an on-site visit and/or an interview. Be sure to have all of your application documents available and prepare to demonstrate that you have the knowledge required to run the business.
Maintaining your women-owned business certification
Once you become certified, you will need to maintain that certification over time. All of the organizations require some sort of annual recertification. The SBA requires you to attest once per year before your certification expires and participate in a program examination every three years. NWBOC and WBENC require sworn affidavits, some paperwork proving you’ve been in business for the last year, and a renewal fee.
Entrepreneurs have the drive and determination to succeed. Obtaining a woman-owned business certification broadens the number of work opportunities you can pursue, and those opportunities can be lucrative. You can also gain more visibility and generate interest in your company by adding your certification to your website and marketing materials. Get your certification and use it to your advantage. For more articles on small businesses and business growth, check on the Small Business section of the CenturyLink Discover blog.