Certifying Your Minority Business Opens Doors to Opportunity

About the Money With Melinda Emerson: Certification is a tough process, but it is well worth the effort.

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There are often plenty of things working against you in business, so when you have an advantage, you should take it. It never hurts to get a leg up in business, and minority certification could help. There are two things that certification can do for you: give you access to contract opportunities and give you access to corporate buyers and diversity professionals who can become advocates for your business.  Before embarking on the certification process, know that it’s a major time investment. It can be costly, and the application requirements must be strictly followed to have any chance at getting approved. The U.S. government and large corporations often set aside a portion of their planned spending to work with companies that have undergone the certification process. If you’re looking to obtain large contracts for your business, certification is one way to do it.

According to About.com, every year between 5 percent and 25 percent of bid contracts are held for certified companies. In instances where one contractor bids and wins a job, the contract may stipulate that the prime contractor must divert a portion of the contract to a small or disadvantaged business. Just because you registered doesn’t mean these contracts will fall in your lap. Some corporations will send bid notification request for proposals (RFPs) directly to certifying organizations. There is a lot of potential to grow your business through certified contracts, but you have to get the word out to prime contractors. Once you are certified, you have to maintain your status by renewing yearly. Typically, the renewal process is easy, compared to the initial application.

Here are some resources for applying for certification:

The National Minority Enterprise Development Council advances business opportunities for its certified Asian, black, Hispanic and Native American business enterprises. The organization has become the standard for certifying minority-owned businesses to work with corporate America. http://www.nmsdc.org/

The Women's Business Enterprise National Council is a Washington, D.C.-based national nonprofit that certifies women-owned enterprises. Major corporations leverage WBENC to find qualified women suppliers. http://www.wbenc.org/

The 8(a) Certification Program is for small businesses considered to be socially and economically disadvantaged by the Small Business Administration. The 8(a) program helps these firms develop and grow with additional resources that include one-to-one counseling and training workshops. Participants also gain access to government contracting opportunities that are specifically set aside for 8(a) businesses, which makes the competition pool must smaller.  http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/how-apply

The Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain access to federal procurement opportunities. The HUBZone program is to encourage small businesses located in designated high-unemployment, low-income areas to hire employees from these communities through set aside contracts. http://www.sba.gov/hubzone/

Under the Small Disadvantage Business program, any minority business can self-represent their status as a SDB without submitting an application to the SBA. The firm must be 51 percent or more owned and control by one or more disadvantaged persons. The disadvantaged person or persons must be socially disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged. To participate in the program, the business must register in the System for Award Management.

Consider investigating these certifications. It could open up a whole new business niche for your organization.

Melinda Emerson, known to many as SmallBizLady, is CEO of Quintessence Multimedia. Emerson educates entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies on subjects including small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. She also publishes a resource blog and is the best-selling author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. Follow her on Twitter.

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