During fiscal year 2020, the US federal government spent nearly $600 billion on goods and services from US businesses. What many women business owners may not realize is that they have a chance at landing some of that business.
In fact, the government has federal contracting quotas that require agencies and contractors to award business to woman-owned companies. The government’s current goal is awarding “at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year,” according to the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program. There are additional programs for minority-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and companies run by citizens considered “economically disadvantaged.”
However, that $600 billion figure is just for federal work—there is much more business available than that, including small business set-asides, which are government contracts that must be awarded to small businesses, as well as corporate subcontracting, which involves projects larger businesses have won and must delegate portions to smaller businesses, including woman-owned enterprises, plus state and municipal contracts.
So, what is a woman business enterprise (WBE) or woman-owned small business (WOSB)? According to the government, it is small, for-profit venture that is at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more female US citizens.
Marie Pazych, founder of Convergence Coworking, a freelance social media manager, touches on some of the advantages of applying for certification as a woman-owned business in this WomensNet video.
Why Get Certified?
The government has set quotas to encourage and incentivize organizations to hire smaller businesses owned by women, people of color, military veterans, and other disadvantaged individuals. To ensure that the companies being awarded subcontracts are actually owned and managed by individuals who fall into one or more of those classifications, the government created a certification process designed to confirm that owners are who they say they are.
By becoming certified, your business can qualify to bid on the government and corporate opportunities that are out there.
The type of organizations you want to do business with—meaning government agency or for-profit company—will point you to which type of certification you should apply for. There are certification programs through the federal, state, and local government, as well as through WBENC, which is a third-party certifier that works primarily with corporations. Google your state or city and the word “WBE certification” to discover which agencies in your area offer certification programs.
Some agencies do accept “self-certification,” which means you’re swearing that your business is woman-owned and operated. There is no paperwork and no fee, only a signature to that effect. To start, you may opt to self-certify.
Disadvantages of Certification
The only real disadvantage of getting certified is the cost, both in terms of time and money.
In addition to the WBENC, which spearheads WBE certification for many corporations, state and local organizations may also offer help with certification. They may also charge a fee for their time and guidance.
Perhaps even more inconvenient, however, is the amount of paperwork required for consideration. The government wants to see proof that you started or purchased your business and that you are in charge of its daily operation. The level of detail required can seem overwhelming.
Before you jump in to pursue certification, start by setting up an appointment with your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which you can find on the website of the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC). One of the agency’s services is advising you regarding whether your business would qualify for certification and whether it might be worth your time to pursue it.
Your PTAC should also be able to tell you what kind of contracts are currently available for which you may want to bid, the value of federal contracts for your type of business, and the agencies that are looking for service providers. That information may help you determine if it makes sense to pursue certification.