Becoming a certified woman owned or minority woman owned business: Is your business right for it?

Any business owned by a woman is considered a woman owned business.  It can be a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability corporation (LLC or variations of it.)  A woman owned business is any size from a small business to a large private corporation.  However to be considered for public corporation and Federal, state and local governments supplier diversity programs a business needs to be considered a small business.  This equates to usually a maximum of 500 employees.  In some industries it may mean no more than 1500 employees. To take advantage of the supplier diversity programs woman owned business needs to “certified” as either a woman owned Business (WBE) or a minority woman owed business (MWBE). A woman business owner who is a member of a minority group will want to be certified as a MWBE.  It is important to know the Federal government’s definition of “minority” to be considered for supplier diversity programs of any type. The certification process was covered in previous blog posts.For Federal government contracts, the United States Small Business Association (SBA) has approved WBENC to be a third party certifier for its Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification program.  This is part of the SBA’s WOSB Federal Contracting Program.  WBENC has named this certification program as the Women Owned Small Business Government Certification (WOSBGC) Program.

You do not need to become certified on a national level if you only want to provide goods or services to your state or local government agencies. The same is true if you are interested in contracts with local or state public corporations or non-profits.  This may include hospitals and medical centers, public and private schools and colleges or universities (private or public). Every state and sometimes the local governments have their own certification process.  That will be all you need.  If you are a minority woman business owner you may need to be certified through your local National Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC).  You will need to research your state’s requirements.

Before you devote your time and money to become certified at any level I suggest you consider the following questions:

  •    Is your business in an industry normally in demand with supplier diversity programs?
  •   Do you have the products or services normally requested even if you are in the industry of preference?
  •  Does your business have the capability and staffing to fulfill the contract?  Do you have the manpower to deliver on time and within the bid budget?
  •  Do you have the cash flow stability to wait an extended period time for payment on government contracts?
  •  Do you have time to market your business to be included on a preferred vendor list?  Do you have a staff member to do so if you do not have time?  You will want to be included as a preferred vendor for the company’s future needs.

The preliminary process of contract bidding is much the same as the steps non-profits do when researching and applying for grants and corporate foundation monies.

  • Do you have a staff member to research and investigate opportunities? You will also need to monitor the RFP alerts your certifying agency will also send out to you?
  • Do you have time to develop a relationship with the supplier diversity managers? If you not is there a staff member you trust to do it?

There are businesses that certification does not make sense.  I know women who went through the national certification process to realize later there was no need for it. Examples include public relations, marketing, advertising and communication agencies or consultants, and hospitality services. Additionally consumer goods sold in retail stores: apparel, accessories, linens, and gifts.

Certification makes sense for companies providing services and products such as and not limited to:

  • Office equipment and fixtures
  •  Uniforms and linen services
  • IT infrastructure design
  •  Janitorial and cleaning services
  • Building and grounds maintenance
  • Human resource solutions i.e. staffing, recruitment and executive search
  •  Security services
  • Signs, outdoor advertising and billboards
  •   Printing brochures and annual reports
  •  Construction equipment, building materials
  •  Contractors: lighting, electrical, painting, parking lot paving
  •   Facility, high technology and controlled environment cleaning services

You have decided to include supplier diversity into your business growth strategy. Key points to remember:

  1. Find out in advance what certifying agencies are accepted by your target organizations.  Some companies only accept WBENC and NMSDC.
  2. Every corporation and government agency has its own bid criteria. If you do not meet the criteria it is a waste of time to bid.
  3.  Certification is a marketing tool, gives you credibility and provides you with opportunities for building your business. As with any business opportunity or collaboration, customer service and relationship building are keys to your success.


Author Sylvia R.J. Scott is the Founder and Managing Director of the Girl’s CEO Connection LLC.  She is also the creator and producer of the “Realizing a Vision” conferences and workshops. She is a leading advocate for equipping and engaging today’s high school girls as a new generation of entrepreneurs and creative women leaders.  Her book Realizing a Vision, A Girl’s Winning Guide as a Teen Entrepreneur will be available in September 2012.

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