Female entrepreneurs are part of one of the largest growing business owner demographics in the country. Several organizations offer women-owned businesses special certifications, which allow them to receive benefits that range from management training and priority for government contracts.

Women-owned businesses make up roughly 4 out of every 10 companies in the USA., according to data from SCORE. Yet, female business owners only account for 4 percent of business-generated revenue.

So how can we bridge the gap? 

What is a Woman-Owned Business Certification?

Since female entrepreneurs, historically, haven’t been given a fair shake, there are multiple organizations that want to level the playing field, including the federal government. 

National and regional partner organizations, these organizations have created a web of resources for socially and economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses to spur long-term success.

Certification is offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), awarding the Women-owned Small Business (WOSB) certification and the Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certification, respectively. 

WOSB vs. WBE Certification: Fast Facts

The SBA WOSB program exposes your brand to national, regional and local government entities. The SBA devotes at least 5 percent of their contracting dollars to businesses run by women. So this visibility is an important step in competing for contract dollars. Also, many local municipalities will even provide discretionary spending to some companies earmarked for B2B transactions with businesses run by women.

Some companies may qualify for Economically Disadvantaged Women-owned Small Business Certification (EDWOSB). There are even more opportunities afforded to those that qualify. The SBA aims to help people who face harsher economic roadblocks.

EDWOSB certification requires that your business has been kept from capital and credit opportunities like bank loans that others have been afforded, among other criteria for personal assets.

While the WBENC can match you with corporate partners that can award you contract opportunities, the focus is more on intangible benefits. With WBENC certification, women-owned businesses gain access to:

  • Successful entrepreneurial mentors
  • Management and technical education 
  • Valuable networking opportunities

Benefits and Advantages of Women-Owned Business Certification

Each program offers distinct ways of boosting your business, but there are also general benefits to becoming a certified business enterprise.

An important but often overlooked reason to get certified is that it makes your business more appealing. It’s similar to BBB accreditation: it isn’t a surefire way to make more money, but it increases exposure and lets others know they can trust your company.

If you rely on B2B transactions and vendors, you may see an uptick in business. Many companies not only prefer to work with female entrepreneurs but – like the WOSB federal contracting program – will mandate that a certain percentage of their business goes to them.

There are also tax incentives for working with women-owned small businesses. If your business is a B2C enterprise, some customers may be more apt to buy from a woman-owned business. Woman patrons, especially, know the challenges you face. 

All you have to do is become more visible through certification and you could start seeing more customers coming through your door.

WOSB Benefits

The Small Business Administration offers many financing programs for companies in need of funding, but not many know of the advantages minority and women-owned businesses receive from working with them. 

While they don’t provide specific business loans for women, SBA WOSB certification offers you many other potential financial and educational benefits. 

WOSB Federal Contracting Program

The most common reason most people seek certification in the first place is the potential to compete for lucrative government contracts. Thousands of government contracts are awarded to female-owned businesses each year, resulting in billions of dollars in revenue. 

While participation in the WOSB program doesn’t guarantee contract dollars, there are a few ways that it can limit (or even eliminate) your competition.

Competitive Set-Aside Contracts

To meet their 5 percent quota, government agencies will set-aside certain contracts for those with minority- and women-owned business certifications. This means that, if your business can fulfill the project, you may have limited competition.

The goal is to award contracts in industries where women are underrepresented. EDWOSBs are generally favored for these because of their increased hardships in accessing these favorable projects.

You’ll still need to bid, but certification might position your business over non-certified entities also vying for the contract. 

Sole-Source Contracts

Unlike their counterparts, sole-source contracts eliminate the bidding process. If your company is the only one that can fulfill the project, you can be given access to lucrative contracts, up to $4 million for goods and services and $6.5 million for manufacturing jobs.

Small business tip: Whether you’re certified as a WOSB or not, small business owners must register with the government to bid and win any contracts. Registering on the System for Award Management (SAM) website is your first step toward these financial opportunities.

Education

Much like the SBA 8(a) program for disadvantaged business enterprises, WOSB certification allows you to apply for the Mentor-Protege program. Through this program, you can connect with business owners that can help you grow, offering some great advantages:

  • Marketing, accounting, technical and management training
  • Potential financial assistance in the form of investments, loans and bonds
  • Support through the federal contracting program process
  • Business development and strategy training

WBE Certification Benefits

National Women’s Business Enterprise certification offers more of a tactical advantage to the SBA program’s financial focus. The WBENC aims to help nurture the businesses of female entrepreneurs, and they do this by providing an array of different resources. 

Corporate Partners

WBENC certification gives you access to the organization’s corporate partners. When your WBENC application is approved, you’ll be placed in their database where companies will be able to search and find you when they need someone to fulfill a contract. They boast a list of hundreds of supplier diversity and procurement executives that focus on working with women-owned businesses. 

Their list is filled with Fortune 500 companies including AT&T, Dell, IBM and Walmart. Having these contacts could help you foster relationships and create sales opportunities with some of the biggest brands in the world.

Woman business owner speaking at a conference to other female entrepreneurs.

Conferences and Networking

The WBENC tries to create a network of women who help each other to succeed in business. They have multiple regional and national events each year that get you in front of other owners that have been in your situation and can give you the tools to grow, hoping one day you’ll return the favor to another young entrepreneur.

At these events, including their annual Summit & Salute and National Conference & Business Fair, provide access to the following resources:

  • Face-to-face matchmaking sessions with potential mentors and clients
  • Ability to have an exhibit booth at events
  • Informal networking and targeted marketing
  • Opportunities to partner with other WBEs for joint-ventures

Education

Events also include workshops and keynote speeches that provide valuable insight into running a business successfully. Recurring webinars, newsletters and blog articles will also be shared with you, covering topics pertinent to the challenges of women-owned businesses.

Marketing

With WBENC certification, women-owned businesses get a boost in their marketing strategies. You’ll be able to proudly advertise your certification, bringing in customers who want to support female entrepreneurs.

The WBENC may also feature your company for stakeholders to find online, adding another avenue for exposure that can bring in business.

How to Get Certified

Now, you have an idea of whether women-owned business certification is right for you. If you’re interested in applying, it’s straightforward. 

General Requirements

There are two main requirements that both the SBA and WBENC use to qualify what is considered a women-owned business. 

  • First, the business must be at least 51-percent controlled by one or more females. U.S. citizenship is a must. And for public companies, women must control at least a 51 percent stake.
  • More than just owning it, you must also show that you manage the day-to-day operations of your company and have a hand in all decision-making and strategy. This ensures that these valuable resources are targeted at businesses truly run by women.

Other than the pre-requisites, both organizations have their own steps through the certification process.

Small Business Tip: Economically Disadvantaged, Women-owned Small Business certification offers more advantages but, to be eligible, you and your business will have to meet the following criteria:

  • Have no female owner with a personal net worth over $750,000
  • Have no female owner with an average gross salary over $350,000 over three years
  • Have no female owner with over $6 million in personal assets

How to Get WOSB Certification

Because you’re working with the government and, in turn, public tax dollars, the SBA has a thorough vetting process for women-owned small business certification. 

The first thing you’ll need to do is register on the SAM website. This allows you to be eligible for government contracts, and the SBA will pull from your SAM profile when assessing your application.

Next, you’ll have the option to either self-certify or go through a third-party organization. 

WOSB Self-Certification

Going through the WOSB registration process yourself is fairly simple. All you’ll need to do is head over to the SBA’s self-certify site and create a profile. There, you’ll be asked to answer a few questions about your business and upload some financial documents before the application is processed.

WOSB Certification Checklist

What you’ll need to apply for WOSB certification will depend on your business entity and industry, but you should generally have the following on hand before applying:

  • Proof of citizenship
  • Three years of business tax documents
  • Bank statements, profit and loss reports and any other pertinent financial data
  • Articles of incorporation, bylaws and amendments (if applicable)
  • Stock ledgers (if applicable)

If you wish to apply for EDWOSB certification, the SBA requires a few more documents:

  • Three years of personal tax returns
  • Three most recent W-2s
  • Completed and signed IRS Form 4506-T

WOSB Third-Party Certification

If you don’t want to give it a go yourself, some organizations can help you through the WOSB certification process. Regional nonprofits and chambers of commerce can point you in the right direction, but there are three main national organizations you can use:

Each will have similar processes, but fees may vary. Check with a representative from each to learn more and find your best fit.

When you receive WOSB third-party certification, you’ll have to submit proof to the SBA before using any of the program’s benefits.

How Long Does It Take to Get WOSB Certification?

Well, that will depend on whether you choose to do it yourself or not. A thorough, correctly completed application can be processed within a few weeks to a month depending on whether the application panel need additional information or a site visit.

Once approved, you’ll have to follow up once a year for an annual review to retain your status.

Note: If you’re already enrolled, your SBA 8(a) economically disadvantaged women and minority-owned business certification can be used to obtain WOSB status. 

How to Get WBE Certification

Obtaining Women’s Business Enterprise national certification from the WBENC is similar to the SBA process. They use most of the same general criteria but break it up into two parts: a document review and a site visit.

Most of the documentation required is consistent with WOSB certification, but there are a few requirements that you’ll want to have on hand. These include information regarding partnerships, employees, business structure and personal financial documents.

After creating an account on their site, the WBENC will ask that you provide all of the documentation and answer a few questions about your business. 

They will then schedule a site visit to speak with you and any of your partners if they deem that you may be a fit for certification. This step is to ensure all of the information is correct and give them a better idea of your company.

The whole process takes about 90 days and, if approved, you’ll be certified for one year. After that, you’ll be required to go through the recertification process, which is much quicker. 

Fees are based on your revenue, but most small businesses will pay $500 or less per year.

Wrapping Up the Benefits of Women-Owned Business Certification

Whether you apply for WOSB or WBE certification (or both), you’ll be opening channels to increase revenue and create long-term success for your small business. The education, technical training, increased visibility, networking and government contract opportunities make it worth looking into.

If you still aren’t sure, check in with your local SBA office or WBENC regional partner for more info.