One Huge Upside Is The Networking

Management Featured PhotoWomen are tough. While they may have once been painted as fragile, delicate creatures, they have been blazing their way into male-dominated fields, including the promotional products industry, for more than two decades. But like everything required in changing the mindset of the general population, women must find ways to overcome the challenges they face. Attempting to establish a new trail in the business world is no easy feat, but one advantage is their ability to earn their company the distinction of a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certification or other similar certifications that are recognized by the federal government and authorized by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Earning the certification is a daunting process, and while it’s certainly possible for women to operate successful companies without this certification, the benefits that accompany it are well worth the tedious application process. The biggest benefit to most WBE companies is the opportunity to meet and attract new customers based on their certification status. Many corporations and government agencies have a certain allotment of their budgets set aside for purchases specifically from categorized businesses such as minority, limited income and, of course, women-owned. So a company that is not WBE certified may be overlooked simply because of an agency’s budgetary requirements.

First Things First

The main prerequisite for WBE certification is that the business must be at least 51 percent owned, controlled and operated by a woman or a group of women. This prevents a female figurehead from acting as the face of a predominately male-owned company. Once majority control has been verified, there are a few ways the company can go about becoming certified. Many local agencies offer programs for certification, but their process can be overwhelming, confusing and generally discouraging. As an alternative, third-party companies have been launched to make obtaining certification a simple and easy choice.

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, or WBENC, is the ultimate tool for any woman thinking of earning the WBE certification. Established in 1997, it is the largest third-party endorser of women-owned businesses. With 14 regional partners across the U.S., WBENC is able to provide businesswomen with a multitude of networking options and help them maintain more effective relationships with their clients. Outside the U.S., certification is provided by its alliance partner, WEConnect International.

Getting to the benefits of certification requires a bit of paperwork. Susan Cates, WBENC’s certification and WBENCLink manager, isn’t shy about letting potential applicants know the number of forms required for certification, but she says the surplus of paperwork makes it more difficult to falsify information. Once the required documents are submitted and reviewed, and if the application is approved, a representative from WBENC visits the business to ensure that it’s woman-owned. A representative from WBENC interviews the owner(s) to make sure they can walk the walk and talk the talk, Cates says.

Let’s Talk Benefits

While having the WBENC can guarantee women business owners plenty of networking opportunities, it doesn’t guarantee success. Theresa Gonzalez, CAS, owner of Stay Visible, an iPROMOTEu affiliate in New Fairfield, Connecticut and a certified WBE, acknowledges the preparation required.

“You really have to be prepared and committed to doing the work. It does pay off in the long run but you have to have repetitive interactions,” she says, referring to the networking prospects provided by WBENC’s regional partners. Another draw for Gonzalez was the comfort of having a national backer that provided the closeness of a local agency.

The organization’s ability to provide resources at a local level through networking events and prospective-buyer introductions is what impressed her the most, she says.

Through these networking opportunities, 12,500 certified women lean on each other for support and guidance, and have access to a database of potential buyers. But simply accessing a database isn’t what sets WBENC apart from other certifiers; it’s their MatchMaking series. Women are able to participate in one-on-on meetings with WBENC corporate members as well those in charge of purchasing for a number of federal, state and local government agencies. These relationships are crucial to those who know how to use them. Gonzalez says she has realized the potential of these MatchMaking sessions. “The more I developed the relationships, the more opportunities I ended up hearing about,” she says, adding that those relationships often evolved into customers.

Which Certification Is Right For Your Company?

Most businesses accept WBENC certification for various business transactions, but there are a wide variety of other certifications for which your business may be qualified. Choosing the right certification to pursue as a women-owned business depends on the type of clientele your company sells to, or wishes to sell to, most often.

In addition to WBENC’s Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certifications, women business owners may also qualify for the Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) or the Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) certifications.

Nobody Likes Rejection

If your company applies for a certification and is denied, it’s not the end of the line. Appeals are available at the local and national level. Applicants should take comfort in knowing that most refusals are due to an applicant’s failure to navigate the paperwork process correctly or to update the company information on renewal forms.

Women small-business owners should consider the value of becoming a WBENC business and the advantages and opportunities it can bring their companies.

Tayla Carpenter is the project manager at Wayland, Massachusetts-based distributor iPROMOTEu. She developed and currently manages A Woman’s View, a program specifically designed to support women distributors in the promotional products industry.

A Step-By-Step Summary Of The Certification Process

Basic RGB

1. A business entity submits an application, along with the necessary supporting documentation, a notarized sworn affidavit and the non-refundable processing fee.

2. Each regional partner organization has a trained review committee that meets on a monthly basis. Once the applicant’s file is complete (meaning all documentation pertinent to the business and legal structure has been received), the application packet is reviewed by the committee.

3. An on-site visit is conducted at a predetermined time with the majority woman business owner.

4. At a subsequent committee meeting following the site visit, a final determination is made regarding the applicant’s eligibility.

o If certification is granted, the company’s owner and assigned contact will receive an automated email notification telling them they have been certified and may access their certificate online.

o A formal letter is mailed to the owner if certification is denied.


What’s Required

A quick summary of the types of documentation required in the WBENC WBE application process includes these:

1. Application

2. Signed sworn affidavit

3. WBENCLink User Agreement Section 3.7

4. Non-Refundable Processing Fee

5. History of Business

6. Resumes of all owners, board of directors and key management team

7. Owner eligibility information

8. Financial statements and tax returns

9. Copy of bank signature authorization card or corporate resolution

10. Proof of capital and/or equity investment by female owner(s)

11. Personnel and payroll information

12. Management information