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How Women Entrepreneurs Can Win Federal Contracts
by Rieva Lesonsky
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February 2, 2023
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Young business woman shaking hands with man after she has signed a contract in modern office setting

According to the most recent Women-Owned Small Business NAICS analysis, “women face a wider variety and greater severity of challenges in starting and growing their businesses than men. Difficulties obtaining government contracts represent one of the largest hurdles faced by women- owned firms.”

The report suggests that women-owned businesses are underrepresented in federal contracting due to several barriers, including:

  •  Potential discrimination
  • Lack of knowledge about or disinterest in government contracting
  • Difficulties with federal certifications
  • Limited government and business networks
  • Unfavorable social, policy, and regulatory environments

To help overcome these obstacles and level the playing field, the federal government has created and implemented policies and programs to help women access government contracts. Specifically, the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program (WOSB), one of several certification programs approved by Congress, was designed “to provide greater opportunities for [women-owned] small businesses to compete in the federal marketplace.”

The WOSB program was born in 1994 as part of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA), which created a 5% government-wide goal of contracting with women-owned small businesses.

What is WOSB Certification?

Overall, there are two types of certification available to women-owned businesses:

  1. Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB): This designation is used by federal government agencies looking for women-owned companies to do business with. Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) is a subcategory of WOSBs.
  2. Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE): This designation is used by private sector organizations and many state and local governments looking for women-owned companies to do business with.

This article will focus on WOSB certification to tell you how to win federal contracts. To help you prepare for the certification process, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a helpful checklist.

WOSB and EDWOSB Certification

In the last few years, the SBA has changed the certification process for WOSBs and EDWOSBs, making it “easier for qualified small businesses to participate” in the program.

You can no longer self-certify your business. Instead, companies must go through an approved third-party organization or the SBA website at certify.sba.gov.

To apply for certification, visit the SBA’s certification website and answer eligibility questions. Once deemed eligible, you will be guided to use the SBA to get certified or be given a list of the approved third-party certifiers. They are:

Contact them to learn about their certification processes and any associated costs of getting certified. But the basic process for certification involves completing an application, providing documentation about your business (this varies depending on your legal form of business), and having the certifying organization visit your place of business. You’ll also pay a nonrefundable application fee. Once approved through one of these four TPCs, you will still need to upload your proof of citizenship and TPC-certified documentation to WOSB.Certify.sba.gov before bidding on WOSB set- aside contracts. It’s a complicated process, but certifying organizations provide detailed directions to help you.

Qualifications

To qualify for WOSB certification, your business must:

  • Be a small business according to SBA size standards (the definition of a small business varies by NAICS code)
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens
  • Have a woman/women manage the day-to-day operations and make long-term decisions

To qualify as an EDWOSB, your business must:

  • Meet all the requirements of the women’s contracting program
  • Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with a personal net worth of less than $750,000
  • Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each with $350,000 or less in adjusted gross income averaged over the previous three years
  • Be owned and controlled by one or more women, each $6 million or less in personal asset

The application requires some or all of the following information and documentation (depending on your business type and ownership):

  • Company name and fictitious business name (“Doing Business As” DBA)
  • Owners’ names, addresses, and company website
  • The company’s legal structure
  • Incorporation date
  • A list of each proprietor, partner, shareholder, or member within the 12 months preceding the date of the application
  • Any affiliate relationships
  • Contact information for regular clients
  • Business and/or personal loans
  • Employee information
  • Birth certificate, current passport, or naturalization papers
  • Driver’s licenses of all owners
  • EIN/Federal Tax ID
  • Resumes of all owners, directors, partners, officers & key personnel
  • Current bank statements for all deposit accounts and loan statements
  • Financial institution signature cards
  • Documentation of how the company was capitalized
  • Financial statements for three years, including balance sheet, profit & loss statement
  • Tax returns for the past three years
  • Assumed/fictitious name certificate
  • Authority to conduct business in the state and/or certificate of good standing issued by the state’s Secretary of State
  • Articles of incorporation & amendments filed with the Secretary of State
  • Bylaws & amendments
  • Statement of information filed with the Secretary of State listing officers, directors, managers, members, or general partners
  • For LLCs, articles of organization and operating agreements
  • Copies of all stock certificates
  • Minutes of corporate shareholders’ and directors’ meetings
  • Shareholder agreements
  • Partnership agreements
  • Professional, industry, and/or business licenses
  • Copy of lease or deed for business location

Make sure your application and documentation are complete when you turn them in. It typically takes at least three months for your application to be processed, and if anything is missing or inaccurate, you'll delay the process even more.

Businesses must update their certification information annually through the Dynamic Small Business Search database and beta.certify.sba.gov.

NAICS

The SBA maintains a list of eligible industries and their North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes. Of the 759 eligible industries, 646 are designated for limited competition among all WOSB Program participants, and 113 are eligible for competition among only SBA- certified EDWOSBs.

Marketing to the Government

Newly certified WOSBs or EDWOSBs hoping to do business with government agencies should go to Sam.gov to find contract opportunities.

For more information about marketing to the government, check out these resources.

Now That You're Certified

Once you get certified, it is crucial to stay involved and make the most of your designation. Put official logos on your website to spread the news and use the certificate in all your marketing materials and as part of your email signature.

Get found online and on social media by adding relevant keywords to your website and social media accounts, such as woman-owned, diversity, small business, WOSB, and other search terms that government contractors may use when looking for companies to do business with.

Sign up for the mailing lists of third-party certification organizations. Government agencies often send information about contracting opportunities to these organizations’ lists.

Though getting certified takes time and costs money, most women who have gone through the process will attest that it’s worth it for your small business to gain access to contracts you may never have known about otherwise.

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About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBusinessCurrents.com.
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