Since the 1950s, many major corporations and nearly every U.S. government agency has been required to spend a portion of their budgets with certified woman- and minority-owned firms, as well as veteran-owned, and economically disadvantaged businesses. There are billions of dollars in business up for grabs to those companies willing to take the time to demonstrate their ownership status and business processes. And while there are millions of small businesses in the U.S., DiversityBusiness.com estimates that only 20% are formally certified. That suggests a huge opportunity for qualified companies that are willing to invest the time and resources to pursue certification.
Kathy Miller, president and chief creative officer at Total Event Resources in Chicago, Ill., has been in business 19 years and became certified as a woman-owned firm seven years ago. Although it took a considerable amount of time to complete the paperwork and conduct an on-site interview, Miller saw certification as a differentiator – a way to distinguish herself from other meeting and event planning companies. And she's right: few of her competitors are certified.
But is enduring the application process and on-site visit really worth it, many business owners wonder? If you’re willing to leverage it as you would any other marketing tool, yes, says Miller, it is worth it.
Paulette Birch, program director for the Monroe County Finger Lakes Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), agrees that certification can be a marketing tool for companies owned by qualifying individuals. PTACs work closely with companies to help identify contract opportunities, connect them with procurement officials, and complete the certification process.
While Miller estimates that 5-10% of her revenue can now be attributed to her certified status, she also points out that the business didn’t just fall in her lap. She put in the work to find potential clients, introduce herself, and stay visible so that when a need for meeting planning assistance arises, Total Event Resources is considered.
Specifically, Miller recommends the following steps to make the most of certification:
Apply for certification, either with your state or with a third-party organization like WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council), which works closely with corporations.
Once certified, register your company with the agency providing certification, to be alerted to upcoming business opportunities and to be added to the organization’s database of certified companies.
Participate in local, regional, or national conferences that connect your business with hiring companies.
Schedule an appointment with a business advisor at your local PTAC for help identifying organizations that buy the products and services you sell.
Identify 5-10 organizations that you would most like to do business with.
Investigate whether any of your target organizations have their own “Doing Business With…” workshops that help potential suppliers get into their database of potential vendors.
Create a one-page capabilities statement to provide to your target clients to make them more aware of what you have to offer.
Then be persistent. Follow up regularly to inquire about upcoming procurement contracts and to stay top-of-mind, just as you would work to build any business relationship.
While making the most of certification "requires time and focus and follow-up," says Miller, it does provide another way into government agencies and global corporations - which can be good news for any business's bottom line.
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