For diverse suppliers looking to partner with more big companies, diverse certification can’t be beat.
In our 2018 State of Supplier Diversity reports, 92 percent of the minority-owned businesses that participated in the survey stated they were formally certified as such. Moreover, 87 percent of women-owned businesses, 94 percent of small businesses, and 92 percent of LGBTQ businesses answered yes when asked if they were certified. Although our survey tends to draw organizations active in the supplier diversity community, the numbers still tell a story: Diverse certifications matter.
That said, becoming certified involves some effort on the part of the supplier. Not every business is ready to take that next step, and certification simply doesn’t mean supplier diversity programs will be lining up to contract you. Here are some considerations to think about when deciding if you are ready for diverse certification:
Benefits of Certification
Undoubtedly, certification offers many benefits for diverse suppliers. It offers a way for supplier diversity programs to more easily find you amid a vast marketplace of vendor options.
If a company is making the effort to contract a diverse supplier, certifying agencies might be the first place it starts. Moreover, many supplier diversity programs won’t hire a partner unless it is formally certified—self-certified suppliers won’t be considered.
Aside from this obvious advantage, diversity certification gives businesses a chance to belong to a greater purpose. Expanded networking is an obvious benefit, but the opportunity to excel as a diverse business and help others excels as well is an ideal that also makes certification worthwhile.
Beyond the overarching advantages, certification offers plenty of additional benefits, including:
- Promotional tools
- Advocacy opportunities
- Networking events
We recently profiled Bob Kelly Sr., CEO of Kelly Computer Supply, a certified Native American-owned, SBA, and SDB business in Minneapolis. He offered this straightforward assessment of the importance of certification:
"For any MWBE supplier or vendor, I would strongly encourage certification. This allows you access to prospective decision-makers with the largest corporate and government organizations in the United States. Also, networking with other MWBE suppliers is very valuable."
Advancing toward that certification takes time and no small amount of effort. The process may require (but is not limited to):
- Ownership statements (what percentage of your business is owned by various diversity classifications)
- Financial information
- Onsite visit or interview
- Company history
- Other business documentation
- Certification processing fees
- Answers to questions and concerns a certifying agency might have
The last point is particularly important because agencies will investigate (and may even conduct an onsite visit of) applicants to ensure they meet all requirements.
Having all your ducks in a row ahead of time will make the process smoother and get you that much closer to a diversity certification.
Finding Time to Network
Certification on its own doesn’t guarantee new business opportunities—though it greatly helps. The networking resulting from your certification is crucial for making contacts and establishing relationships.
Connecting with peers and supplier diversity programs, attending diversity and industry events, robust communication, and keeping your online certification profile updated improve your reputation. If you don’t have time for such active networking—which is understandable, as many small businesses are fully prioritized on day-to-day operations—you may want to consider waiting to take this big step.
It’s better to plan ahead so you’ll be ready for the process when the time is right than to spend considerable resources on a certification you won’t immediately use to its fullest benefit.
What to Do With Your Diversity Certification
You’ve finally achieved your first diversity certification—congratulations! Now you should put it to good use. Events and networking are obvious ways to take advantage of your efforts, but also consider the following benefits:
- Continuing education: Many diversity agencies sponsor continuing education programs not only to strengthen their members’ profiles as diverse suppliers, but also to give these companies and their employees opportunities to become better, smarter, and more successful businesspeople. After all, your success contributes to greater success of the supplier diversity community as a whole.
- Advocacy: Don’t just be a certified diverse supplier—be a champion of supplier diversity. The level of advocacy you choose can vary from incredibly active to simply participating in occasional forums and events, but again, every little bit helps.
- Greater visibility: Once you earn your certification, don’t be afraid to tout it and promote yourself as a diverse supplier. Besides drawing attention from supplier diversity programs, your certification can impress potential employees—who may be looking for a business that identifies with their values and goals—as well as the community you serve.
So … when is a diverse supplier truly ready for certification? That will vary by business, current resources, and where you want to take your organization in the near- and long-term future.
The best advice we can give is don’t rush it, but also don’t wait too long. Diverse certification opens new doors for your business, so don’t be afraid to knock when the time is right.