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3 Tips for Getting the Small-Business Certifications You Need

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Government certifications can provide a helpful boost for your small business. Not only do certifications make getting government contracts easier, but if you’re doing business with a larger company that has diversity initiatives, you may receive additional points during an RFP process or more favorable payment terms (net-30 instead of net-60).

Certification is not a process for the faint of heart, though. The qualification process for many certification programs is very thorough and at times can feel invasive — but it’s worth it in the end if you qualify and get more business.

Here are some tips to make things go more smoothly.

Prepare to Pick Up the Phone

Before you dive into this long and arduous process, do some research online and determine if you’re truly eligible for these programs. Eligibility guidelines are listed prominently for each program, but there are some circumstances that may make your qualification process harder. For example, if you’re a woman and formerly shared a business 50-50 with your husband but changed it recently so that you now own 51 percent, you will likely have to wait a bit because in the short term that change will raise some red flags.

Do as much research as you can online, but know that not every question can possibly be answered on a government website. Go ahead and make some calls to the Small Business Administration or Louisiana Economic Development. They expect questions and have people trained to advise you. They can recommend third-party certification consultants, if necessary, and will go out of their way to help.

The SBA even has seminars around the country on a variety of topics. Visit the Events page and see if anything will be in your area soon.

Get Your Paperwork in Order

Whether the certification you’re hoping to get is federal or state, or related to your gender, race, veteran status, economic disadvantage or other factors, you’ll need to provide a good bit of paperwork, and many items are essential for multiple certifications. The good news is that if you are a female veteran who owns a small business, a lot of the paperwork for the woman-owned business certification is the same for the veteran certification.

Dig up the following documents, scan them and store them in a folder on your computer so you can easily upload several things at once. Doing things piecemeal will take much longer. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.

  • Business and personal taxes for three prior years.

  • Financial statements (balance sheets and P&L) for previous year and year-to-date.

  • Birth certificates, passports or naturalization papers for all owners.

  • W-2 or 1099 forms for all owners, officers and directors for three prior years.

  • Articles of incorporation.

  • Operating agreements.

  • Leases or ownership documentation for office facilities.

  • Quarterly payroll tax reports.

  • Itemized payroll (most recent).

  • Loan agreements.

  • Resumes for all owners.

Hurry Up and Wait

This is a slow process and there will be times of progress and a good bit of waiting. Expect the occasional snag: a document you thought you uploaded is not there, or you forgot to sign a form, or you listed a truck under your assets but didn’t describe it fully, so now the form has been returned, or you made your way 90 percent through a form and then discovered you need a PIN number and now that PIN number has to be mailed to you. It happens. Just work through things one step at a time and you’ll progress.

The good news is there are no real deadlines for these certifications. The process can be started at any time and as long as you keep making progress, there’s no specific time frame for most certifications to be completed. Of course, the sooner you get it, the sooner you benefit, but don’t panic if the process takes a few months.

And next year when it’s time to renew, the process will go much faster if you haven’t made significant changes to your business. You will only need to provide any financial information from the past year that wasn’t included before, but if your lease and incorporation paperwork and everything is the same, you likely won’t need to resubmit.

Stephen Loy