Oh, how far we’ve come! Women business owners, I’m talking to you!
Starting, working, running, and owning a business is hard. I can’t imagine what it was like for all the women who came before me who had to overcome many more obstacles. Obstacles like needing a male relative to co-sign a business loan if they wanted to pursue financing for their business. (Yep. Until 1988, when federal legislation – Women’s Business Ownership Act – called an end to that practice.) No wonder there were far fewer woman-owned businesses than there are now.
Now, 13 million businesses are generating almost $2 trillion in worth! High-five women! Seriously, yay us! We now represent more than 40% of all US businesses.
Even so, gender bias and discrimination are still pervasive and entrenched. (I know. Shocked face.)
My colleague Tina Simpson wrote about this in March. The bottom line: women “have less access to financing, receiving shorter-term loans at higher interest rates, for less amounts of money. …access to financing and capital investment represents the single most important limiting factor to the establishment of and growth of women (and minority) owned businesses.”
It’s really hard running a business without capital. Fortunately, there are programs at the federal, state, and local levels that acknowledge this reality and attempt to mitigate the consequences. These are woman-owned small business certification programs and related contracting programs.
At the federal level, this is the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification. The business and the owner(s) need to meet specific requirements to be eligible, and there is an application process that you must go through. The process is not complicated, but it is tedious and must be renewed annually.
Each state has its own women-owned small business certification program. And, as far as I am aware, having an SBA certification does not get you any state recognition. You must also apply and be certified in the state, following a similar but separate process. You’ll utilize the Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) certification process in North Carolina. Becoming NC HUB certified is still on my to-do list, but I have just completed the Washington State Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise process. Again, the process is not difficult but tedious, with significant documentation requirements.
And there are local opportunities as well, such as New Hanover County’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program.
The SBA application does not have a fee, but state programs may, and it is possible that with annual renewals, there is a fee.
So, I imagine you are thinking, “the certification process costs time and money and is annoying. Why would I do it?”
Because there are significant benefits.
- First, contracting opportunities. These opportunities come from multiple sources. Through the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program, the federal government limits certain contracts to businesses participating in the program. The federal government aims to award at least 5% of all federal contracts to women-owned small businesses. Importantly, companies that federal agency contracts with assume the same obligations to work with certified businesses by awarding subcontracts. (I can personally attest to this reality and corresponding benefit.) States and localities often have similar requirements in place. In some state procurements, the agency may require that bidders allocate a percentage of the contract to certified businesses. While in other cases, companies that include certified bidders receive additional points in the scoring process. Moreover, states and localities may have sole-source contracts limited to certified businesses. Finally, other companies will seek out certified businesses to conduct business with, given tax incentives to do so.
- Second, funding opportunities, whether loans or grants. While lenders are not permitted to discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, or gender, there are programs such as equal opportunity lending or diversity lending programs that cater to women-owned businesses. Additionally, there are grants and other sources of funding that are specifically for women-owned small businesses.
- Third, marketing and networking. As mentioned above, companies are looking for women-owned businesses to partner with. Identifying your certifications on your website and collateral is an important marketing tool. Some states also include directories of certified companies. Additionally, you may have access to mentors through certification programs or the opportunity to attend events at which you can network.
- Fourth, education and resources. As business owners, we must learn continually, and we are always on the hunt for a resource to help us understand or achieve something. Numerous education and other resources, like the SBA’s free Ascent learning platform and Women’s Business Centers, are available.
While my company, Atrómitos, LLC, has been SBA certified for years, I have woefully under-prioritized this area of opportunity. But no longer. Identifying the certification programs my company is eligible for and pursuing each one, along with genuinely taking advantage of the benefits, is a priority for me as we round 3rd base in 2022 and head into 2023.
My advice: don’t wait. When you’re a small business owner, there are so many things you must do and decisions you have to make. We get everything done by prioritizing. Prioritize this.
Atrómitos is an SBA-certified woman-owned small business committed to helping our clients do big things. While we partner with a variety of organizations, our work reflects a singular common mission: creating healthier, more resilient, and more equitable communities. Working toward this shared goal requires cross-sectional collaboration. To this end, Atrómitos assembled a mighty team of experts in public health, health administration, policy, strategic planning, change management, and marketing and communications. Collectively, Atrómitos’ team has decades of experience at the top levels of government, with dynamic nonprofit organizations, and in the private sector, bringing diverse technical expertise as well as the practical operational expertise needed to drive change. Atrómitos believes (fervently) in “better” and in its ability to effect this change. Through its work with clients, Atrómitos supports and creates systems that allow for the more rational and equitable administration of resources and more efficient, ethical, and sustainable business practices. Founded in Wilmington, North Carolina, Atrómitos has team members across the country in Illinois, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.