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3 Steps to Registering as a Woman-Owned Small Business
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AnnaMarie Houlis,
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Journalist & travel blogger
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So you're a woman starting a small business — congratulations! Starting a business is no easy feat. Paving your own path can be confusing, questionable at times, expensive, time-consuming and more. But it can also be the most rewarding decision of your life. Being your own boss, setting your own rates, working your own hours and choosing with whom you want to do business are all liberating aspects of being a business owner. 

If you're passionate about your business's services or products or mission or philanthropic work, it's even better! You can turn your passions into a career.  Plenty of women do it, after all!

The most recent U.S. Census data suggests that nearly 10 million women own businesses, which accounts for roughly 36 percent of all firms in the country and rakes in over $1.6 trillion in revenues. Yup, women-owned businesses have witnessed a notable 45 percent increase between 2007 and 2016 — a rate that remains five times the national average. Since 2007, nearly 1,100 net new women-owned firms have been launched each day — in fact, women of color, in particular, now own nearly five million businesses across this country.

If all these women are doing it, you can do it, too! But where in the world do you get started registering your woman-owned small business?

What qualifies as a woman-owned small business?

First things first, you need to make sure that your business qualifies as a woman-owned small business. 

To qualify as woman-owned, your business must meet the following criterial:

  • Your business must be considered “small” as defined by the relevant The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code, which varies by industry. That said, size standards are typically based on your average annual receipts or your average number of employees. To find out if your business is considered small in your industry and learn more about size standards, you can contact the size standards specialist at your nearest SBA Government Contracting Area Office. You can also reach out to the Office of Size Standards by email at sizestandards@sba.gov or by phone at 202-205-6618.
  • Your business must be at least 51% directly owned (and controlled!) by at least one or more women. These women must be U.S. citizens, as well.

If you want to qualify as an economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business, there are additional requirements to be recognized as economically disadvantaged. Your business must be deemed "economically disadvantaged" and the owners of your business must demonstrate economic disadvantage.

You must also decide if you qualify to become a woman-owned small business (WOSB) or a women business enterprise (WBE).

What is the difference between WOSB and WBE?

The difference between a woman-owned small business and a women business enterprise is simple.

"Generally speaking, the WBE designation will be accepted by most private companies and some municipalities, while WOSB certification is required to participate in federal programs," according to Accion, a global nonprofit with a mission to advance financial inclusion by providing people (like female business owners!) the financial tools to improve their lives.

There are also differences between WOSB and WBE certifications (see below).

What are the benefits of registering as a woman-owned business?

Many companies, corporations, organizations and government agencies have what they call "supplier diversity goals." This means that they aim to do business with a well-rounded list of businesses so that minority and women-owned businesses can be successful, too. At the federal level (and sometimes at the state and local levels, too), the government aims to award 5% of the value of all its contracts to women-owned businesses.

In order to reap these benefits, however, you have to be certified as a woman-owned small business. 

How do I register as a woman-owned small business?

Wondering, 'How do I get certified as a minority owned business?' Here's what you need to know in order to register and get your certification as a woman-owned small business. Follow these three simple steps.

1. Decide on a certification.

The Small Business Administration certifies women-owned small businesses and economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses so these businesses can be recognized as such when they bid for government contracts.

There are also two main players for getting certified for the private sector: The National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC) and the Women's Business Enterprice National Council (WBENC). They both offer a women's business enterprise (WBE) certification, in addition to the aforementioned women-owned small business (WOSB) certification. Again, the WBE will be accepted by most private companies and some municipalities, but the WOSB is required for federal programs.

2. Apply for your certification.

You can apply for certification by filling out the form for women-owned small business certifications, which is available on the Small Business Administration’s website. You can also get certified as a women-owned small business by one of four Small Business Administration-approved organizations: the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Women Business Owners Corporation, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

To apply for the private sector, visit The National Women Business Owners Corporation or the Women's Business Enterprice National Council.

3. Register with the System for Award Management.

Unfortunately, simply getting certified with a women-owned small business certification isn't all you need to do in order to be eligible for government contracts. You also have to register with the System for Award Management.

How long does it take to get WOSB Certification?

Getting a women-owned small business certification doesn't happen overnight. The certification process will take approximately 30 days, according to the Women's Business Enterprise National Council. Feel free to contact your local certifying Regional Partner Organization with any questions throughout the process.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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