As a savvy business owner, you know diversification is the name of the game. You don’t rely on one client as your sole source of income and you are constantly looking for opportunities to take your business to the next level.
But you’re small. Your annual revenue is well under a million. Your capabilities don't match the big boys just yet.
Ok, later for all that...you are an audacious Boss so let's not waste your time dwelling on what you don't have. You know you got it going on so what are your advantages?
You hustle. You’re a quick learner. You’re creative and you keep your word. You're good at what you do and deliver bangin' value. Given the right opportunity, you will deliver again and again...and those advantages, my dear, set you up for a power move.
Have you thought about having the state or federal government as a client? If so, you should definitely look into certifications for small businesses. In particular, let's take a look at the DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) certification.
Are you leaving money on the table?
If your business qualifies as a disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE)...meaning your business is owned by a woman, a minority, a disabled person or a veteran...you might be leaving money on the table if you aren’t officially recognized for what you already do every day.
Why? Because every year, the federal government designates “small business set asides” to help increase the probability of disadvantaged small businesses winning a federal contract.
Government set asides sound great but if no one else you know has a certification, are you are wondering if your business would benefit from a DBE certification? Most people see the obvious connection between painters, roofers and other building contractors but let’s think this through a little further.
Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer entrepreneurs have been able to provide products and services outside of construction. It really just comes down to what you offer and your capacity to deliver on your promise in order to meet the wide-ranging needs of the agency.
How have other entrepreneurs used the DBE certification?
-A state was looking for vendors to bid on a 3 year contract with the Department of Health to provide infant sleep sacks described as “wearable blankets” for infants.
-A local painter was awarded a contract to help renovate county libraries.
-A t-shirt company was awarded a contract to provide t-shirts for a state agency.
-A consultant created training programs to teach leadership skills to mayors and county council members.
-A hairstylist was awarded a contract to help female soldiers suffering from alopecia.
Chart your own path.
Was there an obvious connection between a hairstylist and the federal government? Challenge yourself to be creative as you think about your business and capacity to serve.
You have a choice to refuse limiting beliefs like "My business is too small" or "My mentor isn't certified so I probably can't do it either." This may or may not work for you but you will never know if you are looking at what other people are doing.
Think outside the box and pray for guidance. Can you use this certification in alignment with the vision God placed on your heart to fulfill?
A few things you should know
As you consider if this is something you should do to level up your business, I also want you to keep in mind these 10 things you should know about DBE certifications.
Be patient with the Process. The certification process isn’t painful at all. I promise they won’t take your first born, but you will have to complete paperwork and possibly have an interview. You file with your state and the entire process can take anywhere from 90-120 days and maybe even shorter depending on the state. This is an opportunity for you to create jobs and impact the generational wealth for your family and others you help. Keep your vision and your “why” in perspective as you work through the process.
Do the Work. You won’t just get contracts handed to you. You won’t get preferential treatment just because you are a DBE. You still have to submit professional bids and provide quality work.
Set boundaries. There are a clear set of rules of engagement for who actually controls and owns the business. A disadvantaged business enterprise is a for-profit business that can be owned by a woman, disabled person, minority or veteran. This isn’t for non-profits.
Know your worth. There are limits placed on your net worth. For example, the EPA requires your personal net worth to be less than $750,000 but the Department of Transportation allows your personal net worth to get as high as $1.32 million.
Track your growth. There is an annual review process where you complete a form that asks you to basically verify that you are still grinding and haven’t struck it rich yet.
Network everywhere. The federal process is honored by state agencies allowing you to benefit from state and federal contracts. For example, the SC Office of Small and Minority Business Contracting Certifications honors the certification received by the Department of Transportation. These organizations do a great job of creating networking events to share information with you and other DBE vendors.
Get free training. Business services like free logo design, website support, networking opportunities and technical training are provided for FREE by your state!!!
Stay informed. You stay informed about contracting opportunities around your state and can connect with other opportunities across the country if you build relationships.
Explore other options. Again, diversification is everything. There are more than one type of certification that will benefit your business. Choose what's best for you by exploring other power moves like adding the 8a and HUBZone certifications to strengthen your business.
Get a return. My rule of thumb is to always expect a return on any investment I make. Remember, you are making an impact, building a legacy, and of generational wealth so don’t just let your certifications collect dust. Be intentional about scheduling time in your calendar to take advantage of the free training, marketing support, networking opportunities and most importantly...take the time to apply for contracts!