“How can my company stand out from the crowd?”
It’s a question that entrepreneurs ask themselves constantly. In today’s business environment, there is always another company with offerings similar to yours, so differentiating yourself from the competition can help set you up for long term success. Obtaining business certifications is a great way to give your company a competitive edge. There are a variety of business certifications that can help make your company visible to potential customers and partners in the public and private sector:
- Industry: Many industries offer specific certifications that are offered through leading trade organizations.
- Business size: There are numerous certifications available to companies that qualify as a small business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s size standards.
- Business type: There are also certifications offered to companies that meet certain ownership criteria. For example, two of the most common certification programs that any size business can participate in are the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Certification Programs. The Minority Business Development Agency is another helpful resource tasked with promoting entrepreneurship and growth opportunities for Minority owned businesses of any size.
Here are some ways you can utilize certifications to help take your business to the next level.
Leveraging Certifications for Strategic Marketing
When looking to promote your company, certifications can be a strong asset. They provide credibility and third-party validation that can help set you apart from companies with similar products or services. As a starting point, it’s helpful to include certifications on any company marketing collateral including your website and LinkedIn profile. Many certifying organizations, such as The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, also provide marketing materials that can be used to identify and differentiate your business.
Certified businesses also have the opportunity to participate in networking opportunities that are not available to others. For example, some organizations hold annual events catered specifically to certified veteran-owned businesses. These types of events and conferences provide valuable networking opportunities with potential customers, training seminars and can help boost company visibility. In addition, they serve as a great opportunity to connect with similar companies to share insights, compare experiences and explore partnerships.
Access New Opportunities by Partnering Up
A strategy that many successful small business owners employ in their company is working with larger companies to gain access to projects that they might not be able to otherwise. Certifications can be a useful tool to get your foot in the door with large companies.
Many large firms have their own internal goals for supplier diversity and use certifications to proactively find partners. In fact, during a panel hosted by American Express in Washington DC, representatives from Balfour Beatty, Accenture and Facebook all shared best practices for becoming a vendor of their respective companies and underscored the benefit of certifications as a way to make your business stand out.
As a small or up-and-coming business, partnering with an established organization can help you gain valuable credibility and learn the ins and outs of a process or project from an experienced partner—not to mention, access to new contacts and potential customers. These relationships also offer a mentorship opportunity that can help you grow and develop your business.
Appealing to the Federal Marketplace
As the world’s largest customer, spending billions of dollars each year on everything from IT consulting to construction to office supplies, the federal government can offer lucrative growth opportunities. Certifications are valuable in the federal marketplace as they can help you compete for set-aside contracts—contracts that are only eligible to small businesses and those that fall within a particular category. For instance, only certified women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) are qualified to bid for and receive a WOSB set-aside contract. Additionally, government agencies have specific small business and socioeconomic contracting goals, so they actively seek out certified businesses with which to partner.
For those small businesses that qualify, certifications can make a tremendous difference in getting ahead in federal contracting. Below are a number of popular set-aside programs to explore:
- Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program (WOSB): Qualified firms with 51% women ownership can become a certified WOSB
- The Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern Procurement Program (SDVOSB): Once certified, qualifying veterans can bid for contracts which are set-aside for exclusive competition among service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.
- Historically Underutilized Business Zone Program (HUBZone): Businesses in designated urban and rural areas can gain preferential access to certain federal procurement opportunities through this certification.
- 8(a) Business Development Program: This SBA program helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete for government contracts.
Where to Start
How do you determine what certifications are right for your business? Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help you determine the best options for your company, starting with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA has regional offices around the country that can help businesses through the certification process. Examples include:
- Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) represent a national network of over 100 educational centers, which are designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses.
- Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) are a local resource for transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses looking to start, purchase or grow a business.
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) provide assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the United States and its territories.Also visit the SBA’s new certification website to help guide you through the certification process with ease.
Becoming a certified business can be a true asset to both new and established businesses. The growth opportunities and long lasting benefits of these certifications can help open doors to countless new business ventures.
Lourdes Martin-Rosa is the president of Government Business Solutions (GBS) and the American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting.