What if you found out about a huge untapped market for your products and services--a market of at least $200 billion? A market eager to find reliable women-owned businesses to work with? A market that has regular needs? A market unlikely to disappear anytime soon? Wouldn't that market be worth a look?
What is that market? The government. That's right, federal, state, and local governments and agencies across the country are looking for women-owned companies to meet their purchasing needs. Laws enacted over the past 45 years require government departments and agencies to ensure a certain percentage of their purchasing contracts go to women-owned businesses. In addition, hundreds of national corporations are diversifying their supplier base by doing business with women-owned companies. Your invitation to this prosperity party is known as Woman Business Enterprise certification.
Public- and private-sector entities purchase a whole smorgasbord of goods and services. Some of the items include agricultural equipment, electrical cables, highway infrastructure, hospital construction, industrial machinery, mass transportation parts and accessories, plumbing fixtures and waste treatment chemicals. But did you know that billions of dollars are also spent on services like architecture and design, communications and PR, computer software consulting, data processing, HR and employee development, marketing consulting, printing and property leasing?
The government and large corporations are looking for women-owned business that can meet those needs. And they don't want men hiding behind women-owned businesses, where the wife is the titular head of the company but has none of the business expertise, makes none of the decisions and gets none of the profits. WBE Certification is akin to the UL seal of approval for electric appliances: The business has been "tested" and gives the purchaser comfort that a woman really does have the majority ownership and control of the company.
Not just any company can say it's woman-owned. It has to prove it through an application process administered by an outside organization. The beauty of WBE Certification is that as long as a women (or women) owns at least 51 percent of a for-profit company and is the final decision-maker, the business has met the minimum requirements for certification.
The details of gaining certification depend on whether you want to work with the government or with major corporations. Private-sector certifications can take as little as 60 to 90 days, as long as you have provided all requested information; government agencies typically take longer.
Certification has many benefits. Like other approaches to marketing, though, it's not a magic bullet to riches. Nor is it the right fit for all businesses. Here are some of its drawbacks:
- Ownership is not the only criteria. Residency, years in business, company size, number of employees and profitability may affect whether a given government agency or corporation will certify your company as a woman-owned business.
- Certifications aren't universally recognized. In most cases, federal, state and local governments have their own certification processes and applications, as do different agencies, such as transportation, health and hospitals, education and environment. These certifications may also differ from corporate certifications, which can vary from one corporation to another. As a result, you may find yourself going through multiple certifications to accomplish your goals and get on the right lists.
- There are costs involved. Many certifications require an application fee. Some certifications also have an annual recertification fee.
- Getting certified doesn't guarantee you contracts. Getting certified gets you in the door. Once you're in the database, however, you need to market to this new customer base.
Your local Small Business Development Center or Women's Business Development Center should be able to give you more background information and point you to more resources. For corporate opportunities, both the Women's Business Enterprise National Council and the National Women Business Owner Corporation provide information and certification assistance.
Nina L. Kaufman, Esq. is an award-winning New York City attorney, edutainer and author. Under her Ask The Business Lawyer brand, she reaches thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners with her legal services, professional speaking, information products, and LexAppeal weekly ezine. She also writes the Making It Legal blog.