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4 Invaluable Benefits of Women-Owned Certification for Your Business

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4 Invaluable Benefits of Women-Owned Certification for Your Business

hristine Geronimo, head of the woman- and minority-owned Midnight Supply Co, recently attended a transformative nine-week business course at no cost, thanks to her Washington State Office of Minority & Women's Business Enterprises Certification. "The course focused me on different aspects of my shop, from finances to marketing and sales," she shares. "It provided a dedicated hour each week to hone in on my business rather than getting caught up in the daily grind."

Getting certified as a women-owned business is more than a title — it can be a game-changer for many print shops and distributorships. Learn how this certification can significantly boost your entrepreneurial journey as you gain enhanced visibility and credibility, while also unlocking exclusive contracts and funding opportunities.

The Benefits of Getting Certified

The Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification is a premier certification for women-owned businesses in the United States, verifying that a business is at least 51% owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women. Thousands of major U.S. corporations and government agencies recognize this certification.

Here are some of the major benefits of getting your WBENC certification:

1. You’ll enjoy more business opportunities.

WBENC-certified businesses are included in a database accessible to hundreds of major corporations and government entities that prioritize diversity in their supply chains. This can lead to contracts and business deals that you might not have had access to otherwise.

Due in part to being women-owned, Blue Dot has won multiple projects from Fortune 500 companies in the financial services and tech sectors.

“While our unique corporate gifting platform is ultimately why we win any given deal, being WBENC-certified helps to open doors. When prospects hear that we’re a women-owned business, they’re excited that they can personally make a difference by supporting us, as well as do their part to help the company they work for achieve their diverse-owned business spend.”
Rachele Haber-Thomson, co-founder of Blue Dot

“This certification has allowed us to have a seat at the table and get deeper into corporate clients,” says Karie Cowden, president of Connect the Dots Promotions, which has been WBENC-certified since 2015. “When you’re certified, there are no guarantees for business. Relationships take time and must have the ability to grow.”

Geronimo has gained more access to government contracts for her business. “These organizations have specific budgets to allocate to certified businesses, so it's helped in getting us connected,” she says.

WBENC hosts various events, conferences, and matchmaking sessions that provide networking opportunities with key decision-makers from large corporations and other WBEs (Women’s Business Enterprises).

“There was a recent webinar I attended through WBENC where I introduced myself and my company's services to everyone on the call and that alone has helped us to get more recognition.”
Christine Geronimo, owner at Midnight Supply Co

2. You’ll get access to more educational and developmental resources.

WBENC offers numerous programs, including leadership development, mentorship, and training workshops that help women business owners enhance their business skills and grow their enterprises.

Lucie Voves was awarded WBENC’s Dorothy B. Brothers Scholarship to attend Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Leadership for the 21st Century program, which gave her access to the same high-caliber executive development available to Fortune 500 companies.

“Understanding how to scale and navigate change in business gave me a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
- Lucie Voves, CEO and founder of Church Hill Classics

Not only is she a certified woman-owned business through WBENC, but also WBE certified by the State of Connecticut. Certified businesses can also tap into market research, industry insights, and best practices shared by WBENC to stay competitive and informed.

3. You’ll enjoy a marketing and branding advantage.

Being WBENC-certified sets a business apart as a credible and professional entity that meets the high standards of the certification process, which can enhance its reputation and credibility in the marketplace.

That’s why Voves believes that using the official Women Owned logo on your website and marketing and promotional materials helps distinguish your company from others like it.

“Thanks to our woman-owned business affiliation, Church Hill Classics is the official award vendor for the Enterprising Women of the Year and Inc.’s Female Founders. I'm very passionate about the WBENC’s Buy Woman-Owned and Shop Woman-Owned initiatives and actively promote other female-founded businesses in our online gift guides.”
- Lucie Voves
, CEO and founder of Church Hill Classics

“WBENC certification has enabled us to get into large corporate supplier diversity portals and be considered for RFP opportunities,” says Kelly Elsner, cofounder of Blue Dot. “This certification has helped us get in the door with larger Fortune 100 clients.”

WBENC also actively promotes certified businesses through its platform, newsletters, and at events, providing additional exposure that can lead to new business opportunities. “In some cases, it has opened up networking opportunities, as well as helped us tell the story about ‘Why Blue Dot,’” Haber-Thomson says.

4. You’ll receive support from a larger community.

WBENC certification connects women business owners to a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, fostering collaboration, support, and shared learning.

“The unexpected benefits were meeting other woman-owned companies who became clients.”
- Karie Cowden, president of Connect the Dots Promotions

Voves’ business is about framing academic and professional credentials, so she has benefited tremendously from networking and peer advisory groups through WBENC. “I gained access to great speakers and mentors and also built a solid network of like-minded entrepreneurs,” she says. “These resources have contributed significantly to my personal and professional growth.”

In addition, WBENC advocates for women-owned businesses at the national level, influencing policy and creating a more favorable business environment for women entrepreneurs.

Steps to Obtaining WBENC Certification

Earning WBENC certification involves a detailed application process to ensure that a business meets that criteria of being at least 51% owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women. The certification process is thorough and can be challenging, primarily due to the detailed documentation and verification steps. “The application process is definitely extensive and requires a great deal of supporting documentation,” Voves says.

Here are the steps to apply for WBENC certification:

1. Gather your documents.

This typically includes business licenses, articles of incorporation, corporate bylaws, operating agreements, stock certificates, resumes of owners, and financial statements. These documents prove the ownership, management, and control of your business.

2. Fill out the online application.

Visit the WBENC website and create an account to start your application. Fill out the online form, providing information about your business and uploading the documentation you’ve gathered. “If you’re co-founders, you both have to provide information,” Haber-Thomson says.

3. Pay the application fee.

There’s a non-refundable processing fee for the certification, which varies based on your company’s revenue. This fee covers the cost of processing the application and conducting the site visit.

4. Get ready for your site visit and interview.

Once your application is reviewed and deemed complete, a regional partner organization (RPO) of WBENC will schedule a site visit and interview. During this visit, your interviewer will verify the information you provided in your application and interview you to ensure you’re the primary operator of your business. “You’ll also need to prepare for a national committee review and an onsite interview process that will take approximately 90 days to complete,” Voves says.

5. Await your certification notification.

After the site visit, the RPO will review all the information and make a certification decision. This process can take several weeks. If you’re approved, you’ll receive your WBENC certification, which is valid for one year. You’ll need to recertify annually, providing updated information and possibly undergoing another site visit.

Overcoming Application Challenges

Geronimo encountered some challenges during the certification process since she applied right after she purchased Midnight Supply Co. “There was confusion on the certifier’s end as to who actually owned the company,” she says. “This was extremely frustrating. I had to provide more documentation to prove I was the sole owner.”

Still, Geronimo’s application was rejected. She had to wait more than two months to reapply. “I cleaned up the documents in my application and called the office directly to let them know how frustrating the process has been,” she says. “The next day they gave me the certification.”

To make the process easier, try these tips:

Prep for your application.

Start by carefully reviewing the WBENC application guidelines. The application process, including the site visit and interview, requires significant time and effort, so be prepared for this commitment.

Make sure you understand the criteria and have accurate documentation.

You should fully understand WBENC’s criteria and ensure that your business meets them. Plus, you’ll want to make sure that you have easy access to all the documentation and records required for certification.

“The hardest part for us was getting to know the ecosystem that is certification. Our original strategy was to help us land a large whale. As it turns out, there is an expectation of revenue to ensure the corporations don’t dwarf you and there’s consideration around interactions.”
- Karie Cowden, president of Connect the Dots Promotions

Don’t hesitate to get help.

First, you can attend WBENC informational webinars or get advice from other WBENC-certified businesses. Some businesses even hire consultants to help with the application process, which can streamline the effort but involves additional costs.

“There are organizations set up to assist people with the application process, which I found to be very helpful as there can be language barriers and technological barriers for people applying.”
Christine Geronimo, owner at Midnight Supply Co

Get Started on Your WBENC Certification Today

Voves says certification is a must for funding and growing your women-owned business. “You’ll gain access to federal grants, angel investors, and grants funded by private companies,” she says. “It’s advantageous to secure certification at both the state and federal levels because the government and big corporations are the largest buyers of goods and services and often award contracts or small business grants specifically to female founders.”

Jun 2, 2024