Veterans who are hoping to launch a small business or grow an existing one have a unique opportunity to benefit from government initiatives that encourage entrepreneurship among military members. For example, the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 earmarks three percent of all federal prime contracts and subcontracts for small businesses run by veterans.
Becoming a federal contractor starts with getting your business certified as veteran-owned. That involves documenting your military service and disability, if applicable, and registering with the appropriate government agencies. If veteran-owned certification is something you'd like to pursue, here's what you'll need to do.
1. Get verified by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sponsors the Vets First Contracting Program, which ensures that government set-asides are available to veteran-owned small businesses (VOSB) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSB). To participate in this program, you have to be certified by the VA.
To apply for verification, you'll need to register for a VetBiz account. From there, you'll have to upload supporting documentation, including a Department of Defense Form 214, an official letter from the VA certifying your disabled-status if you're disabled, and financial documents for your business. The financial documents include tax forms, bank statements, and articles of incorporation if you have a C corp., an S corp., or a Limited Liability Company (LLC).
The VA then reviews all of your information to make sure you meet their requirements before giving you an official certification. For example, you must have at least a 51% ownership stake in the business. Also bear in mind that it can take up to 60 days to get a final decision.
2. Register with the System for Award Management.
Once you're registered with the VA, your next move is registering with the System for Award Management (SAM), formerly known as the Central Contractor Registration (CCR). As a side note, this is only required if you want to pursue government contracts. If you're just hoping to attract more customers to your business by being certified as veteran-owned, you could skip this step.
There are two things you'll need to register your business through SAM. The first is a federal Tax Identification Number (TIN), Employer Identification Number (EIN), or a Social Security number (SSN). Which one you decide to use ultimately depends on how your business is structured. In addition to that, you'll need a nine-digit D-U-N-S Number. This number is issued by Dun & Bradstreet and is used to establish your business credit file.
It doesn't cost anything to register with SAM and you can check your application's progress through the SAM Status Tracker. Typically, it takes between seven and 10 days for registration to be completed, but it can take longer if you have to request an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service.
3. Register with the General Services Administration.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is the gateway point for obtaining access to large government contracts. To have a shot at scooping up one of these contracts, there are a few things to cross off your to-do list.
First, you'll need to register through the System for Award Management and get a D-U-N-S Number if you don't already have one. Then you have to verify your small business status with the Small Business Administration and determine your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code with the Census Bureau. Finally, you have to provide past performance evaluations from previous customers. Once you've done all that, you can get certified to begin pursuing these government contracts.
4. Look into certification at the state level.
Being certified as a veteran-owned business through the federal government isn't the only option. At the state level, certification may be available through your home state's Commerce department or Secretary of State's office. The National Veteran-Owned Business Administration offers a helpful state tracker tool  that highlights which states are most receptive to veteran-owned business contractors.
A Final Word
Getting certified as a veteran-owned business can be exceptionally rewarding if you're interested in becoming a federal contractor. It's also helpful if you're hoping to expand your customer base by appealing to consumers who prefer to frequent businesses run by vets.
Just remember that the process can be time-intensive and the certification isn't guaranteed. If you want to increase your odds of becoming certified, be sure to read over the guidelines for each government agency carefully so you don't miss anything that could cause your application to be denied.
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