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How to Get Certified as a Minority-Owned Small Business

Certification can open access to government contracts and other types of support

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En español | When it's time to grow your small business, every new opportunity can be valuable. That's why it's important for businesses that are diversity-owned to get certified as such. Many government agencies and larger corporations are eager to contract work out to smaller businesses that are majority-owned by racial minorities, women, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities or veterans. If your business meets the criteria, a minority-owned business certification could be a key that unlocks the door to growth.

In addition to offering access to new contracting opportunities, certification can also help shape your business's future and agenda. For example, other benefits of certification could include:

  • Alerts from the certification providers about new contracting opportunities.
  • Access to corporate partners and suppliers that provides opportunities for networking, collaboration and information-sharing about best practices on how to expand and compete more effectively.
  • National recognition and promotion by certification providers.
  • Matchmaking sessions with businesses.
  • Use of the certification logo on your business’ marketing materials and website.
  • The opportunity to participate in webinars to present your business and offerings to potential clients.

Which organizations offer certifications? The groups that award certificates to minority-owned businesses are, in a word, diverse. They include the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), Disability:IN, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Minority-owned small businesses should also consider the Small Business Administration's (8a) certification program if their business’ revenues exceed a minimum of $10 million a year. The Department of Veteran Affairs offers its own diversity certification for veteran-owned small businesses.


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Certification Process. Most providers charge a fee for a certification that lasts two years. The steps to becoming a certified minority-owned business include:

  1. Completing a business profile on the relevant provider's application platform.
  2. Uploading supporting documents.
  3. Hosting a site visit.
  4. A 30- to 90-day review process by the relevant committee.

Eligibility. Small businesses that are considered eligible include:

  • 51 percent minority- or disabled-owned.
  • Proof of permanent residency or citizenship.
  • Legal for-profit entity in the U.S.
  • Home-based businesses as well as those in offices and retail spaces.

Documents Typically Required. The documents required by the different certification providers varies. Typically, during the certification process, small-business owners are asked to provide:

  • Financial documents, including federal tax returns and profit and loss statements.
  • Organizational and government documents, including articles of organization, bylaws and articles of incorporation.
  • Owner documents, such as ID, résumé, proof of citizenship and/or residency.

The Do's and Don'ts of Certification. Certification providers recommend becoming a member of a certifying body to avoid paying application fees. Furthermore, experts recommend that, if possible, small-business owners allow for a 90-day processing time, since fees for expedited service can top $1,000. Once a small-business owner is a certified supplier, experts recommend that they:

  • Start small. For the first three years, limit contracting to no more than three clients. This will allow you to get experience and to build relationships and a good reputation with a few vendors. This, in turn, can lead to securing contracts with other companies.
  • Don't mass-email businesses. Take a personalized approach by researching companies, exploring opportunities and building relationships with potential clients.
  • Get a mentor. If you join the certifying body's supplier mentoring program, you can receive tailored guidance and support as a diverse supplier.

Small-business owners have the opportunity to expand revenue streams and extend into a B2B model with a Minority-Owned Supplier Certification. Equally important, large companies are eager to do business with small, minority-owned businesses as society and business leaders face a racially and socioeconomically disadvantaged past. Small-business owners can start the process by contacting their local certification provider and organizing the relevant documents.

Learn more about the AARP Supplier Diversity Program.

Ashley Powdar is employer content lead for AARP's Financial Resilience team. She works with participants in the organization's Employer Pledge Program to promote the value of a multigenerational workforce. She also assists and reports on issues that affect small business owners.

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