- Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) Certification can help businesses acquire deals and projects they normally would not qualify for.
- In order to receive a WBE certification, a business must be 51% owned and operated by a woman.
- Many agencies offer the certification, and will require documents such as financials, operations, and employees before awarding the certification.
If you’re a woman business owner and you work with large companies and/or government agencies, a WBE certification may help you acquire more business and larger deals. Many companies and government agencies are required to work with a certain percentage of certified companies, so having the WBE certification will automatically give you a leg up when bidding on projects. The process to apply for certification is straightforward, but the applications themselves can be daunting. Continue reading for a list of things to think about when applying for WBE certification.
What is WBE certification?
WBE (Women’s Business Enterprise, or Woman-Owned Business) certification provides access and opportunities to woman-owned and operated companies. In a corporate landscape that historically skews male, it’s a corrective measure to reduce the gender imbalance.
WBE certification can be a challenging process, but it offers women a crucial leg up over male-run companies when pursuing certain deals and contracts. The basic requirements are simple – at least 51% ownership and control by a woman or women – but the application is much more nuanced than you might assume.
Who offers WBE certification?
Though it sounds like a single certification, many different agencies, organizations, and governments offer it. The City of Chicago has its own certificate with its own associated opportunities. The state of Illinois has another, and so on. The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) confers perhaps the most widely recognized certificate. With a rolodex of diversity and procurement executives in corporations across America, a WBENC certificate will most likely serve you wherever you go. The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) serves as WBENC’s regional affiliate in Illinois.
In general, state certifications are mostly useful to conduct business with that state’s government agencies. The WBENC certification is most useful for targeting major corporations.
So do you need to pursue all of these certificates to get access to all of their different lists? Fortunately not. Many certifying organizations recognize WBE certificates from each other. The state of Illinois, for instance, honors certifications from the WBDC, City of Chicago, IDOT, Metra, CTA, and Pace.
What does WBE certification offer?
WBE certification confers a range of benefits. A few important benefits are:
Connection: It connects you to parties seeking to contract with women-owned businesses, and opportunities to partner on business ventures with other WBE-certified businesses.
Community: You join a nationwide cohort of professional women and gain access to networking, mentoring, webinars, and other resources dedicated to developing your capacity.
Resources: A full trophy case of awards and scholarships is set aside for WBE-certified businesses.
Marketing: With a growing push in the country to intentionally support women- and minority-owned businesses, publicizing a WBE certification can promote your business and draw clients.
Advocacy: You have the chance to represent women’s business issues in key forums, have your voice heard in issue-oriented surveys, and contribute to a growing body of research around women in business.
Is certification right for me?
Again, the picture is a little more complicated than you might imagine. Not every business qualifies for WBE certification, and not every business would benefit from receiving it. There are four central questions you should ask yourself:
- Do you want to do business with corporations or government agencies? Not every company asks that their contractors be certified. Most often, only corporations and government entities ask for certification. If you do not work with large companies and/or government agencies, the WBE certification likely will not provide you much advantage.
- Are large contracts within your business’s capacity? Many small businesses may not be ready for the scale of corporate and government contracts. If you and your business are not prepared to fulfill and deliver on these larger contracts, consider partnering with another woman- or minority-owned business. If that is not realistic, perhaps WBE certification should wait until your business grows.
- Are you willing to disclose private and confidential information about your business? The certification committee requests confidential documents, including tax returns, formation documents, capital investments, and compensation records, to analyze and determine your business’s eligibility.
- Do you have the time, energy, and resources to pursue the contracts that will be available to you? WBE certification functions first and foremost as a marketing tool. It does not guarantee that your company will receive contracts, and it does not send them to you on a silver platter. As such, it needs targeted marketing to be of use.
How do I apply for WBE certification? Can I do it myself?
The process in general is: make sure you qualify, collect documents, and complete the application. It seems simple, though the agencies require many documents that may take some time for you to gather. Applications vary slightly depending on the provider, but much of the process remains consistent. Most applications require the following:
- Proof of ownership and control. This is the most important part- your business must be 51% owned by a woman. This is shown through company formation documents (such as Bylaws or an Operating Agreement). However, your business must not only be owned by a woman but also must be controlled by a woman. Your application will not be approved if a woman is listed as majority owner but does not also run the company and have a say in the day-to-day management. This is why we recommend that your ownership documents are very clear and specify exactly how the company is run.
- Financial Information. You will also have to provide documents showing evidence of your business’ financial health. These include your most recent bank statement and corporate tax returns, recent W-2s or 1099s for certain employees, large loan agreements, lines or letters of credit, and the like.
- Employee Information. Provide recent weeks of payroll information, a detailed list of your employees over the past year, and any separate compensation schedules for high-level employees in your company (officers, managers, etc.).
- Equipment Information and Inventory. If your business owns any equipment, submit the title and purchase documentation. Submit leasing agreements and proof of the most recent payment if leased.
- Licenses and Registrations. Submit all licenses, permits, and/or pending applications for your business.
- Facility Information. You will need to provide your lease agreement and/or proof of ownership of the facility where you conduct business.
This list is only a sample of what the agencies may ask you to provide in your application. During their review, they may request additional documentation or ask questions they have about the documents already submitted. It is extremely important to be transparent about your business – if not, the agencies will have questions and will contact you to clarify, which will only prolong the already long and arduous process.
Who can help me?
With so many documents to submit and information to organize, it feels overwhelming. But you aren’t alone! The certifying organizations enthusiastically support women applying for certification.
The City of Chicago certifies through the Department of Procurement Services:
Certification and Compliance Division
121 North LaSalle Street, Room 806
Chicago, IL 60602
The WBENC’s regional partner organization for Illinois is the Women’s Business Development Center:
8 S. Michigan Avenue, 4th Floor
Chicago, IL, 60603
The WBDC also provides a number of pro tips on their website to help you prepare for the application process. Many businesses forget small but important details or distinctions that could tank their application – after paying the nonrefundable application fee.
Above advice on individual steps, having an attentive and responsible aide can make your application easier. G & G Law fits the bill. We help collect, review, and organize documentation (and draft them if need be), cut through red tape, and keep the process moving so you can spend your energy on your business. Reach out for a free consultation.