Every small business owner knows the struggles of laying the groundwork for success.

The tasks are many: you have to do things like write a company description plan, open a credit card and learn some common ways to drive sales. Some business owners face added struggles due to their gender, economic status and location.

Thankfully, there are resources available to help fledgling enterprises get off the ground, especially if you belong to one of these minority or disadvantaged groups. If this is you, consider an SBA certification to help your company stand out.

What Are SBA Certifications and Why Are They Beneficial?

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a government agency whose sole purpose is to offer support to small enterprises. They do this by providing business financing, entrepreneurial development and government contracting, among other things.

The SBA’s goal is to disburse 23 percent of federal contracting dollars to small businesses each year. The caveat? You must have an SBA certification to be eligible to apply for a federal contract.

Why is small business certification beneficial?

In short, it gives you a special status that helps your business compete in the marketplace with more established companies. A small business certificate gives you credibility and allows small enterprises to win more federal contracts, which is beneficial if you’d like to work with the government.

SBA certification also increases visibility and offers a variety of opportunities. For example, private companies that work with the federal government may be obligated to hire a certain number of SBA-certified companies.

What Are SBA Certification General Requirements?

While requirements may vary slightly depending on the certification, the general requirements for SBA certification are as follows:

  • The firm must be small
  • At least 51 percent must be owned or controlled by one or more disadvantaged persons who are U.S. citizens
  • Daily operations and management must also be carried out by one or more disadvantaged persons who are U.S. citizens
  • In some instances, the owners must be socially or economically disadvantaged

Small Business Diversity Certification Types

Minority and underrepresented business owners have many resources available to help them get off the ground. Organizations like the Minority Business Development Agency, for example, are dedicated to minority business growth, and underrepresented owners can also apply for special business grants.  

Regarding the SBA, there are different options for small business certification.

1. 8(a) Business Development

The government aims to disburse 5 percent of federal contract dollars to certified small disadvantaged businesses through their 8(a) Business Development program. This allows the government to contract to socially and economically disadvantaged companies.

Those that are awarded this one-time certification receive nine years of assistance developing their business, which is divided into two phases, the developmental stage and the transitional stage.

The goal of this certification is to help disadvantaged companies not only survive, but also thrive. To that end, companies can participate in the mentor-protégé program, take advantage of business training and counseling and compete for contract awards.

2. HUBZone

This small business certificate is for business owners located in business zones that are historically less utilized, or HUBZones, who receive competitive and sole source contracting. These companies also receive a 10 percent price evaluation preference in contracting opportunities.  

With HUBZone certification, the federal government’s goal is to award 3 percent of federal contracting dollars to HUBZone certified small businesses.

In addition to fulfilling the requirements mentioned earlier, HUBZone applicants must also have their principal office located in a HUBZone, and 35 percent of their employees must live in a HUBZone.

This certification is valid for 3 years with the option for recertification.

Veteran Small Business Certification

Did you know that 70 percent of Americans would prefer to do business with a veteran-owned business? Obtaining veteran small business certifications is one way to have your business officially recognized—and bring the visibility you deserve.

The government aims to help our service heroes by awarding 3 percent of federal prime contracting dollars to disabled veteran-owned small businesses per year.

Unlike other SBA certifications, there is no centralized SBA small business certification program for veterans. Instead, you can complete this process through Vet Biz, an organization that will formally recognize your status.

3. Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB)

VOSB members enjoy many benefits. While there are no federal set-aside programs for those who are VOSB certified, veterans who self-certify are eligible to participate in VA’s Veterans First Contracting Program.

This program prioritizes veterans and service-disabled veterans when allotting over $3 billion in VA contracts and subcontracts, making it an excellent way for veterans to compete in the marketplace.

4. Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB)

In terms of small business certifications for veterans, this one comes with fantastic opportunities. SDVOSB-certified companies are eligible to apply for the 3 percent of set-aside contracts and can access business training, counseling and financial assistance.

The requirements for SDVOSB participation are identical to those of the VOSB, with one exception: veterans must provide proof of a service-related disability.

Women-Owned Small Business Certification

Women business owners should not think twice about applying for this certification, which gives you access to 5 percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses (WOSB) each year.

5. Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB)

The WOSB certifications provide these organizations more visibility, as well as contracts in industries where WOSB are underrepresented, making certification highly beneficial for women business owners.

The small business certification requirements for women include either SBA self-certification or third-party certification. To self-certify, you need to create a profile at SAM.gov before beginning the process with SBA.

If you choose to go the third-party certification route, there are four organizations approved by the SBA for this purpose:

Aside from access to federal contracts, WOSB members enjoy benefits that include participation in networking events, training programs and mentoring programs.

6. Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB)

To obtain an EDWOSB certification, applicants must meet the requirements of the WOSB, as well as meet additional economic requirements.

Small Business Sustainability Certification

If you aren’t socially or economically disadvantaged, there are other certifications you can consider instead—such as recognition in sustainability.

Working toward sustainability is not only good for the planet, but it’s also good for business. Green initiatives help companies stand out. They attract more customers and can be a deciding factor in not only hiring employees but also in getting them to stay long term.

If your company has been making strides in its efforts to go green, one of these certifications may be right for you.

7. LEED

An incredibly recognizable symbol of success in sustainability, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

The U.S. Green Building Council runs the LEED program, which awards different levels of certification to buildings based on the credits they earn (Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum).

If you run your company out of a space you can make structural updates to, obtaining LEED certification can help you in the form of grants, fee waivers and tax credits. Not only that, your commitment to sustainability will make you competitive with clients and employees.

8. TRUE

The TRUE Zero Waste certification recognizes businesses working toward sustainability goals, including achieving zero waste, supporting public health and carbon footprint reduction.

Requirements include having a zero waste policy in place, as well as 90 percent or more diversion for solid, non-hazardous waste from landfill, incineration and the environment in the last year.

Expect to pay between $1,200 and $1,500 for the TRUE Zero Waste certification, plus an additional certification fee based on your company’s square footage.

Choosing a Small Business Certification & Getting the Most out of It

Haven’t seen any small business certifications that match your situation? There are a number of them out there just waiting to be discovered, so you may want to consider doing some research.   

If you are eligible for these small business certifications, take advantage of the benefits. The application process can be both long and challenging, so make sure the time (and maybe even money) you invest is worth it in the long run.

Find out exactly what benefits come with your small business certification. Many offer mentor programs, training and allow you to apply for exclusive contracts. You can also use the certification logo on marketing and promotional materials, which is a great way to attract clients.

Perhaps most importantly, pay attention to renewal dates. You don’t want to let your SBA certification lapse while you’re enjoying the perks that come along with it.