Women entrepreneurs and female-owned businesses are growing at an unprecedented rate. According to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report from American Express, between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 21 percent—a solid 12 percent higher than the 9 percent growth rate for businesses in general.
With more businesses—and more women-owned businesses—launching every day, female entrepreneurs need to do everything they can to drive growth. And one way to drive that growth, establish your business, and tap into a new pool of resources for your company? Women owned business certifications.
But what, exactly, are women owned business certifications? How can they support your business? And what kinds of certifications are out there for women entrepreneurs?
In honor of National Women’s Month, let’s take a deep dive into women owned business certifications; that way, you have everything you need to find and apply for the most advantageous certifications for your business (and take your women owned business to the next level in the process):
Why pursue a women owned business certification?
First things first—why should female business owners consider pursuing a business certification?
The first reason is the potential financial benefit. Many business certifications give your business access to opportunities you may not otherwise have access to.
“You are able to get access to government contracts that you might not otherwise be eligible for,” says Adrienne Garland, CEO of She Leads Media. “There’s a lot of money that is available to women-owned small businesses…that you can get access to.”
Certain business certifications also give you the opportunity to bid on exclusive contracts, which allows you to build your client pool and drive sales with projects you would not have otherwise had access to. For example, the Women Owned Small Business Certification (WOSB) grants access to exclusive (and often lucrative) government contracts.
Between the access to funds and exclusive contracts, women business owners can leverage their business certifications to drive significant growth and revenue for their businesses. “I know people that have literally built their businesses on just being certified,” says Garland.
In addition to the financial benefits business certifications can offer women owned businesses, certifications can also provide networking, mentorship, training and development, and educational opportunities—all of which can help support the growth and success of your business.
Women owned business certifications also lend a certain authority to your business, particularly when it comes to working in the private sector. Many corporations strictly partner with businesses that have gained certification—and once you go through the process of obtaining your women owned business certificate, you can use your certification as a marketing tool to get those corporations’ attention and secure new projects and opportunities for your business.
Women owned business certifications to pursue for your business
Now that you know why you might want to consider pursuing a women owned business certification, now let’s jump into what certifications are available to pursue.
There are a number of different types of business certifications available to women owned businesses, including:
Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business Certification (EDWOSB)
The United States federal government is required to set aside 23 percent of all prime contracting and subcontracting goals for small businesses—and 5 percent of that needs to go directly to women owned businesses.
The Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification is a national certification that allows women owned businesses to compete for those exclusive federal contracts—and claim their piece of those contracting dollars.
In order to qualify as a WOSB, your company must:
- Meet the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s definition of a small business
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women (all of which are U.S. citizens)
- Have women manage day-to-day operations and make long-term decisions for the company
Within the WOSB umbrella, there is an additional certification—the Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business Certification (EDWOSB).
In order to qualify as an EDWOSB, your business must meet all the requirements of the WOSB contracting program as well as:
- Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with a personal net worth of less than $750,000
- Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with $350,000 or less in adjusted gross income (taken as average over the previous three years)
- Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with $6 million or less in personal assets
WOSB and EDWOSB certifications are overseen by the Small Business Administration (more commonly known as the SBA).
There are two different ways to certify your business as a WOSB or EDWOSB: self-certification or third-party certification.
If you decide to go the self-certification route for your WOSB certification, you’ll need to upload relevant documents and answer business-related questions on the SBA’s certification website at certify.SBA.gov.
According to the SBA’s preparation checklist, you’ll need the following documentation for self WOSB certification:
- Active System for Award Management (SAM) registration for the company (registration available at SAM.gov)
- Proof of U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate, naturalization paper, or unexpired passport) for qualifying individual(s).
- Resume (optional)
- Joint Venture agreements (when applicable)
- Corporations will need to provide:
- Articles of Incorporation
- Copies of stock certificates (front and back)
- Stock Ledger
- Corporate Bylaws and any amendments
- Limited Liability Company (LLC) will need to provide:
- Operating Agreement and any amendments
- Articles of Organization and any amendments
- Partnerships will need to provide:
- Partnership Agreement and any amendments
- Sole Proprietors will need to provide:
- DBA (Doing Business As) or Trade Name Certificate
In addition to the above documentation, EDWOSBs applicants must also provide personal financial information for every woman claiming economic disadvantage (and, when applicable, each woman’s spouse), including:
- A completed and signed IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Tax Transcript
- Three most recent personal income tax returns (IRS Form 1040) including all schedules
- Three most recent W-2’s
- Detailed information on the value of all assets (including cash on hand and in banks, retirement accounts, accounts and notes receivable, stocks, bonds, real estate, personal property, life insurance, and any other assets), liabilities (for example, mortgages, personal loans, tax debts, and any other liabilities), and income (including salary, real estate income, investment income, and any other income)
In addition to self-certifying, businesses can also apply for WOSB or EDWOSB certification through an approved third-party partner. Currently, there are four organizations approved by the SBA to provide third-party certification to women owned businesses:
Once you receive your certification through an SBA-approved third-party certifier, you’ll need to provide proof of certification through their certify.SBA.gov portal. (Third-party certifiers may also charge fees for their certification process.)
According to the SBA’s website, the certification process for both WOSBs and EDWOSBs is set to change in summer 2020. Regulations are set to be published on June 30, 2020, with regulations going into effect 30 days later. Once the regulations take effect, businesses will no longer be able to self-certify as a WOSB or EDWOSB. Instead, applicants will either have to certify through the SBA’s free online certification at certify.sba.gov or an approved third-party partner.
Woman Business Enterprise (WBE)
If you want the opportunity to work in the private sector, a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) certification is definitely worth exploring.
Unlike the WOSB program, which deals strictly with federal contracts, WBE certification is leveraged by local and state governments as well as companies within the private sector.
Similar to the WOSB program, all businesses applying for WBE certification must be 51% owned, operated, and controlled by a woman or a group of women. (If you are a minority, you can also apply for a joint Minority and women owned business enterprise certification).
There are two main entities that issue WBE certifications:
Similar to the WOBC program, both organizations require businesses applying for WBE certification to submit an application along with relevant documentation (including business paperwork, financial documentation, and proof of citizenship). Both the NWBOC and WBENC have fees associated with the application process:
- According to the NWBOC’s FAQ page, the application fee is $400. If your business is applying for a combination of two different certifications, the application fee is discounted to a combined cost of $700.
- According to the WBENC’s FAQ page, application fees range between $350 and $1250, based on company revenue.
WBE certifications are valid for one year, and you’ll need to go through a renewal process each year to keep your certification current.
WOSB vs. WBE: Which certification is right for my business?
The certification process for both the WOSB and the WBE program can be time-consuming. So, before you go through the process, you want to make sure that it will benefit you and your business.
But how can you determine which certification is the right fit for your business?
Some questions you might want to ask yourself when deciding which women owned business certification is right for you include:
What am I hoping to get out of certification?
Before you decide which certification is the best fit for your business, it’s important to get clear on what, exactly, you’re hoping to gain from getting certified. Are you mostly interested in getting to bid on federal contracts? Are you looking to leverage your certification as a marketing tool to get in your foot in the door at large corporations? Are you more interested in training, education, and networking opportunities?
Each woman owned business certification has its own set of benefits. Taking the time to define what you’re looking for from your certification will help you better evaluate the opportunities available—and ultimately make a better decision on which certification is best suited to fit your needs.
Am I looking for opportunities in the government or private sector?
The kind of opportunities, projects, and contracts you’re looking for will play a large part in what kind of certification it makes sense to pursue.
If you’re interested in federal contracts, a WOSB certification would make sense. If you’re looking to work in the private sector, then a WBE certification would be a better fit. Make sure whatever certification you pursue aligns with the kinds of opportunities you want to secure once you complete the application and certification process.
(The necessary certifications for state and local governments vary; if you’re looking to partner with state or local governments, you’ll need to check with the specific branch to see which certification you’ll need in order to bid on contracts.)
Does my business qualify as a small business?
In order to qualify for a WOSB (or EDWOSB certification), your business will need to meet the SBA’s size standards for a small business. If you don’t meet those requirements, you’ll want to explore other certification options.
How much do I want to spend?
While the SBA offers free certification options for the WOSB program, you’ll pay fees for both getting WOSB certified through a third-party certifier and WBE certification. Before deciding which certification (and which certification method) is right for you, it’s important to look at costs—and then compare those costs to your budget and how much you want/have to spend on the certification process.
The good news? When it comes to women owned business certifications, it’s not an either/or situation. If you find that there are a variety of certifications that suit your business—like WOSB, MBE, and WBE—you can move forward with them all.
Tips for getting certified
Thinking about applying for a women owned business certification? While requirements for each certification will vary, there are a few general tips to keep in mind when researching and applying for women owned business certifications:
Explore all your options
As you can see, there are a variety of certifications available to female entrepreneurs. But because the application and certification process for each certification can be lengthy, involved, and time-consuming, it’s important to explore all your options—and make sure you choose the certification (or certifications) that make the most sense for you and your business.
For example, if your end goal is to find clients and project work in the higher education sector, you would probably want to move forward with a state certification, where you could get access to bid on state university contracts.
Make sure your license is in order
Depending on your industry and the certification you’re applying for, you may be required to hold a specific licensure. Before you move forward with the application process, make sure you understand any licensing requirements (including if you’re required to be licensed at a state or federal level), that you have any required licenses, and that each license is current, valid, and up-to-date.
Gather all the necessary paperwork and documentation before you start the application process
In order to secure a women owned business certification, you’re going to have to provide a significant amount of paperwork (think things like operating agreements, proof of citizenship, bank statements, and tax documents). You may also need to take additional steps to verify that paperwork before submitting it (like getting certain documents notarized).
But trying to pull all that documentation together in the midst of the application process can be time-consuming. And if you don’t gather and submit all the necessary paperwork in time, it could cause you to miss your application window—and force you to start the entire process over again.
“Make sure that you have all of your paperwork and that you…know all the different things that you need to do and that you need to gather so that when you start the application, you can complete it,” says Garland. Don’t get yourself into the situation “where you start the process and you think you’re going to finish it and it takes a lot of time to then just be stopped at a certain point and…[then] have to restart the whole entire process again.”
Apply for the women owned business certification that best serves your business
Women owned business certifications can help open a lot of doors for your business. Not only do they grant you access to opportunities, projects, and contracts you might not otherwise have had access to, but they can also help you market your business, build authority, and find new opportunities to learn, connect, and network.
To recap, if you’re considering applying for a women owned business certification, the steps you’ll want to take include:
- Researching all available women owned business certifications
- Checking eligibility requirements to ensure your business qualifies
- Reviewing the application requirements
- Gathering all required paperwork and documentation
- Certifying any necessary paperwork or documentation
- Submitting your application and paying any applicable fees
Whether you decide to apply for certification through the WOSB or WBE programs, getting your business certified can be a great way to support the growth of your business and get the necessary support and access to opportunities you need to take your business to the next level. And now that you know how to determine the right certifications for your business, the next step? Getting the ball rolling and starting the certification process.