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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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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.

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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.
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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.

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.

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