By | Charlie Fletcher
The business landscape is more accessible than ever before. Our digital age has resulted in tools to help those with entrepreneurial ideas to achieve their ambitions. Almost anyone with a computer, internet access, and a little capital can start to build an enterprise. Even the educational and practical resources to build a successful business are easy to connect to through online means.
This has resulted in many people from traditionally marginalized communities empowering themselves and each other to thrive as business leaders. Minority-owned businesses are steadily becoming a popular presence. Indeed, governments and industries are increasingly cognizant of the positive impact encouraging diversity in the commercial landscape can have. To better recognize and support this, there is now the option to become certified as a minority-owned business.
But why should you actively pursue this certification? Let’s look a little closer at the reasons to engage, and how you can do so effectively.
Why Pursue Certification?
The first aspect to consider is that diversity and inclusivity are gaining more attention from the public. While this is long overdue, one of the benefits has been a greater portion of the community making efforts to demonstrate their allyship and ethics. This has included a greater emphasis on locating and supporting minority-owned businesses. Featuring details of your certification on your business materials and website can make it easier for potential customers to confirm your status. Not to mention it can assist in community efforts to promote businesses run by entrepreneurs of marginalized backgrounds.
You’ll also find if your small company has a business-to-business (B2B) focus, larger corporations may be willing to partner with you. This is often from both an ethical imperative, alongside a marketing need to demonstrate a commitment to diversity. AT&T, Marriott International, and Accenture are among the many major businesses that currently run supplier diversity programs. These are positive, empowering programs putting real focus into investing in small businesses and helping them grow. Such corporations usually use certification as one of their qualifying factors for engagement.
However, the most practical reason to get certified is the access it gives you to sources of funding. There are government and privately funded loan and grant programs aimed at overcoming the economic inequality and historic hurdles minority business owners face. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has a variety of opportunities for those who qualify for minority-owned business certification. This isn’t just the provision of capital but also resources like access to mentorships and federal contracts.
What is the Process?
The Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Certification program is operated by the National Minority Supplier Development Council. While they have recently allowed applications to be submitted online, there is still a significant process to go through. This can take up to three months to complete. Therefore you should prepare all your supporting materials together in advance to make the process as smooth as possible.
Much of what you’re required to provide will revolve around your eligibility for minority-owned status. Owners must be United States Citizens, and businesses must be at least 51% minority-owned, managed, and controlled. Some of the documentation required needs to confirm your owners are at least 25% Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic or Native American. They accept a range of proofs of ethnicity, from passports to Indian/Native Americans Blood Degree Certificates. Once all the documents have been submitted, there will be a desk audit, followed by a site visit. The entire application is then reviewed by a committee before the board of directors makes its final approval.
Even after certification is provided, it’s important to maintain a high standard of diverse operations. It can be wise to start early and make certain your business has multicultural staff at all levels of seniority. Adopt recruitment strategies that both target and attract the talent to help your company to thrive and meet your cultural goals. Post on job boards visited by varied demographics and leverage your social media channels to make it clear you are seeking staff with multicultural perspectives. Don’t just visit college job fairs, as these tend to exclude candidates from marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds. Make sure you have a presence at trade shows and community events, too.
Making the Most of the Status
Self-promotion isn’t necessarily everyone’s strong suit, but it is essential. Yes, you should include your certification in your marketing materials, but that doesn’t tell people why it matters. Create blog posts talking about your company’s journey, and why you chose to pursue certification. Make short videos or podcasts with other certified businesses, talking about what you each consider the benefits to be and how your status reflects the ethics of your company. This can raise your profile, alert consumers to your status, and also encourage other businesses in your industry to follow suit.
You also need to take the time to build a diverse team of staff members that can contribute to utilizing your status effectively. Your staff should help you to effectively strategize your journey as a minority-owned business and identify opportunities to capitalize on it. As such, you should adjust your hiring processes to recognize candidates that can be effective here. Job interviews are vital tools in this regard, as you can ask tough questions and engage in discussions that give insights into candidates’ goals and thought processes. Lean into some more in-depth topics: their preferred work environments, what they value most in the workplace, even an exploration of their resumes. Some may have prepared answers to common questions already, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing — it shows a modicum of thought into the issues. However, you need to ascertain what kinds of answers demonstrate they have the creativity, commitment, and ethics to contribute to a minority-owned business.
The road to becoming certified as a minority-owned business can be time-consuming, but it’s certainly worthwhile. It opens your company up to greater resources and opportunities and raises awareness of minority entrepreneurs in the community. It’s also important to remember this certification is dependent on you to make the most of it — with the right staff, strategies, and attitude you can thrive.