Getting Certified: What WBOs Need To Know

By Jacqueline Hayes, MBA
Chief Marketing Strategist + Principal
Crayons & Marketers  – Nashville, TN


The federal government’s goal is to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year. This process can be daunting, but with the help of this checklist below, you will be well on your way to getting certified.

Where’s The Money? Rules for Women Owned Small Businesses:

  1. Evaluate your goals – Why are you pursuing certification? Do businesses in your industry typically benefit from being certified? Refer to your business plan and see which objectives being certified will help you accomplish. If you are unsure, reach out for help.
  2. Identify the certifications that fit your business – Based on your type of business and the industry, determine which certifications would benefit your business. If you are pursuing work with the federal government, you may look closer at certifications that fall under the SBA umbrella like WOSB (Woman Owned Small Business) or 8(a). But if you’re more interested in pursuing work with Fortune 500 companies, WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) may be your first choice. While you can certainly obtain more than one certification, try to isolate the certification(s) that give you the most access to revenue opportunities for your business.
  3. Select your NAICS codes – According to the SBA, NAICS codes are used by the government to classify business establishments according to their primary business activities for administration, contracting, and tax purposes. The NAICS database is a long list but be diligent about locating the codes that represent the products or services your business offers. Think broadly. If you offer printing services, make sure you capture all the codes associated with printing. But be careful to only select codes for things that your company does well. To do otherwise, could hurt your credibility. Keep a list of these codes handy as you’ll need them for all applications you submit.
  4. Register in the SAM system – Many business owners have not heard of the System for Award Management, but it is required to sell your products and services to the federal government. Think of your SAM profile like a LinkedIn profile, but in the government space. This is your opportunity to tell federal contracting officers about your company so maximize it. Complete all the fields and don’t guess. If you are unsure of how to complete the registration (it’s long!), get help. Your SAM profile must be renewed every year and now requires businesses to mail in a notarized letter appointing an authorized Entity Administrator.
  5. Get your DUNS number – This quick and easy registration must be completed for each physical location of your business and is required for government bids.
  6. Set a due date – Once you start an online application for certification, you have about 2-3 months to complete it before it expires. If it does, everything you’ve entered is deleted and you’ll have to start over. So, it’s important to determine the best time to undergo this process – perhaps during downtime in your business – so that you can focus on and finish the application and get it submitted timely.
  7. Gather all required documents – Once you determine which certification you will pursue, get a listing of required documents. For WBENC, that list can be found on the website. It’s imperative that you are organized and prepare as many documents as possible before starting the application because as soon as you do, the clock starts. So, if you discover that you need three years of financial statements but don’t tell your CPA until the last minute, they may not be able to turnaround your request before the application deadline. So, set yourself up for success by being prepared and proactive. If there are documents that you do not have because they do not apply to your business, simply note that on company letterhead.
  8. Be prepared for a site visit – As part of the certification process, a representative of the certifying body may visit your business, even if you are home-based. Make sure everything is in order and that your office space is clearly defined. Ensure client contracts are neatly filed and executed You may be asked to show the representative a copy of a contract, so be prepared.
  9. Become a PTAC Client – UT’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center is one of the Nashville small business community’s best-kept secrets. Reach out to them and set up an appointment to learn how they can be of assistance to you during this process.
  10. Just do it! – Certification can open doors for your business. While they don’t guarantee you work, they do present opportunities that may have been out of reach before. But the onus is on you to do the prep work. Get your NAICS codes, DUNS Number, SAM profile, the required documents, and keep a good attitude. Set a deadline to have all this wrapped up and just do it. You’ve got this!