By Bari Faye Siegel
A contractor looking to win bids over others who may do the same type of work in the same communities for the same prices must do whatever it takes to gain edge over their competition.
For some, the answer may be found in becoming certified as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Women Business Enterprise (WBE), Disadvantaged Business or Small Business Enterprise (DBE/SBE), Edge Certified and Veteran Owned Business (VBE). Obtaining one or more of these certifications may put a contractor in line for more government work and may very well catch the eye of a GC with mandates to fill.
There are specific stipulations contractors must meet in order to obtain one or more of these certifications. It’s important to know that the certification process is just that: a process. It will take time and patience. However, experts say, for those who qualify, it can certainly be worth the effort.
Determine which certifications your company may be eligible to receive by visiting the Small Business Administration website at sba.gov.
That should be a wake-up call to entrepreneurs, especially women business owners, who statistically have far more trouble getting their businesses off the ground in their first year than men in the same sectors, reports Forbes.com. While women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men, (according to a survey from the American Express OPEN Forum, between 1997 and 2012, the number of women-owned firms increased by 54 percent, a rate 1.5 times the national average), a very small percentage of those companies applied for WBE status.
Case in Point:
Signs and Safety Devices of Bound Brook, formed in 2007, only recently applied for and received WBE status. The certification, explained Joe DeSimone, general manager of SSD, will allow the company to win more Department of Transportation work and help GCs meet state and federal minority goals.
The company has been woman-owned since its inception, but has missed out on many jobs without the WBE status. “When we saw the market turn, we were looking for different ways to gain new business,” explained DeSimone.
Heather Altobelli, president of SSD, explained: “We started getting a lot of requests because we are woman-owned, but we couldn’t fulfill the requests because we didn’t have the WBE certification. It was a natural progression to obtain WBE status to allow us to service customers who need to meet the minority goals.”
First Things First
To navigate the potentially long and frustrating application process, first determine which certifications your company may be eligible to receive by visiting the Small Business Administration’s website at sba.gov. Be aware that many businesses may be able to apply for multiple certifications; a woman-owned entity may also qualify as a disadvantaged business or veteran-owned business. Since the criteria* and application process for each certification differs, do your due diligence before starting the process.
The Small Business Administration, for example, advises companies to determine which of the available certifications will be most helpful to your company, considering what you sell and to whom you sell it to, rather than which certifications you may be eligible to attain. The SBA suggests that while it isn’t generally helpful for companies who sell directly to consumers to be certified, B2B entities may make use of applicable certifications – regardless of whether your company is woman-owned.
On the other hand, becoming certified as a diversity supplier may not only open more doors to purchasing departments, but it may also allow your company to help larger corporations meet their diversity and community support goals.
Therefore, do your research and determine what makes the most sense for your particular company. If time is an issue for your company, get started as soon as possible. Although different agencies have their own processes, it generally takes approximately 90-120 days once a completed certification application is received.
Spread the Word
Once you’ve obtained certification, get the word out to encourage customers to contact you and let GCs know that you can help fill mandates.
Truth is, you may be the very best in your field, but if buyers don’t know about you, does it matter how great you are? Make sure the entire marketplace hears about it as soon as possible. Send out press releases and e-newsletters. Include the designations on your website and printed collateral.
Also, take the time, immediately, to update your profile on CIS’ online directory. Visit www.cis-csource.com and list your certifications so that GCs, as well as subs and suppliers, can find you fast when they need your services.
In summary, in today’s competitive marketplace, contractors must do everything they can to get ahead. If you believe that obtaining a certification such as WBE, MBE and DBE/SBE may help create new important relationships and potentially lucrative business opportunities, you owe it to your company to learn more about whether obtaining one or more of these certifications is a worthwhile endeavor.
* Each of the certifications has a list of criteria the applying company must meet before they may even fill out an application. For example, to obtain WBE certification, a woman or women must control at least 51 percent of the business and have been in control for more than six months. The woman must serve as the president or CEO of the company and she must be active in daily management. Finally, the owner must be a U.S. citizen for the company to qualify for WBE certification.