Women Who Lead: What it means to be a certified women-owned business in the print and promo industry
Occasionally you might notice the logo at the bottom of an email signature that reads “Certified WBENC Women’s Business Enterprise” or even a logo on a website that features “NWBOC WBE Certified.” They’re more than just acronyms. They indicate that the company is women-owned and has gone through a proper—and lengthy—process to become certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise National Council or National Women Business Owners Corporation business.
To further break down what it means to be WBENC- or NWBOC-certified and how to obtain those certifications, Print+Promo spoke with four leading women business owners, including Sue Steller, president and majority co-owner, Flottman Company Inc., Crestview Hills, Ky.; Vicky Schulty, president and CEO, AmeriPrint Corp., Harvard, Ill.; JoAnn Gilley, CEO, Overture Promotions, Chicago; and Jennifer Cherney, owner, PriMedia Source LLC, Yorkville, Ill.
The Importance of Certification
To start off, both WBENC and NWBOC accreditations work to certify a business is at least 51% owned and managed by a woman or women. WBENC happens to be the largest certifier in the U.S., while NWBOC is recognized as “the first organization to create a national certification program for women-owned businesses,” according to its website, and serves as a third-party certifier for minority business enterprise (MBE), women-owned small business (WOSB) and economically disadvantaged women-owned small business (EDWOSB) certifications. In addition, both help to advocate for women business owners, while supplying them with resources, like programming, events and networking opportunities. NWBOC also offers training and webinars. Both certifications help to ensure that women-owned businesses have the opportunities to succeed.
“I realized that having the WBENC certification was something to be proud of, something that was not just handed out to all who applied,” Cherney said. “I felt honored when I received the letter that PriMedia Source LLC had been accepted as a certified WBENC company.”
For Gilley, the label was a huge benefit that came with the WBENC certification she received 13 years ago.
“It gives the imprimatur of certification to being women-owned. And, gives you access to supplier diversity spend,” she said.
That diversity spend provides Gilley the opportunity to network with other female leaders and supplier diversity professionals who make sure certified women-led businesses are considered for their company’s projects and RFPs.
“Our certification doesn’t win us business, but it often gets us invited to the process,” she said. “The other clear benefit is meeting other women leaders and business owners, who are always willing to help, encourage, mentor and refer.”
Steller, the third-generation leader of Flottman Company Inc., commented on the benefits of the group’s events and networking, but specifically how the WBENC helped her business adjust its marketing focus.
“The WBENC leadership assisted us in retooling our capabilities sheet to incorporate a women-owned business focus,” she said. “The biggest benefit has been to our marketing and branding, as we are now able to include the fact that we are a diversity supplier, which has differentiated us from our competition and is especially effective in the printing industry.”
She also highlighted other positive changes, since she’s now able to use terms associated with being a WBENC-certified company.
“[There’s] more website traffic, specifically with our added search terms, [like] ‘WBENC,’ ‘woman-owned,’ ‘female-owned printer,’ ‘WOB,’ ‘WOB printer,’” she said.
“We’ve had more corporate outreach from the bigger players asking for additional information about our certification and wanting to add us to their list of diversity suppliers,” she continued. “It has also been easier to ‘get into the door’ with other women-owned businesses by leading with the WBENC information.”
The Certification Process
“I must have visited the WBENC website and reviewed the application process 50 times over four years, contemplating the application process,” Cherney shared. “I’d start to review the required documentation and tell myself that I would get back to it when I had more time. I had heard about WBENC and figured ‘I’m a woman and I own a business, so I should get certified,’ but it wasn’t until I was in the certification interview that I truly understood what the certification had to offer. [This was] when I finally decided to commit to starting the process.”
Reaping those benefits requires a commitment from the applicant. The process is more involved than completing a simple online form. In fact, according to Cherney, a few hours per week over the course of a few months is a realistic timeline.
“I dedicated four hours per week for about two months to gather and upload the documentation and submitted the application,” she recalled of her 2012 experience.
That documentation includes an operating agreement, proof of ownership, tax returns and other detailed information about the company, Gilley said.
“It’s all online now, but 13 years ago it was a paper application,” she remarked. “Once you’ve completed the application and provided all the required documents, it moves pretty quickly.”
For Steller, who leads her family-owned, print manufacturing facility that’s been in business for nearly 100 years, next came an in-office interview with a representative from the local WBENC chapter, numerous Q&A emails with the WBENC corporate leadership and a tour of her facility that accompanied more questions. After several months in the review status, Flottman Company officially received its certification about a year ago.
“The process was very straightforward,” Steller said. “I was a little anxious with the time between our completed application entry and the confirmation of acceptance—I was getting nervous when we did not hear anything for a couple months, but it worked out fine in the end!”
Each year, the certification is renewed, which can be done online and takes approximately five hours to include all the required information, Cherney added. Every other year, an on-site meeting with a representative is also scheduled.
How to Join Your Certified Peers
Don’t fear the process. To ease the time-consuming application procedures, Cherney suggested starting early and focusing on the benefits.
“My advice would be to start the application process ASAP and to remember that all of the information that is required is necessary for them to certify a company,” she said. “The certification offers a tremendous amount of support and resources, [and] the events are educational, motivating and fun. Every event that I have attended has given me new ideas and new goals. Getting certified is an accomplishment that I look forward to renewing annually.”
Do, however, make sure this is right for your business.
“Find out if your customer base really has a need for it,” Schulty said.
AmeriPrint Corp. made the decision to become NWBOC-certified in May 2014. Schulty noted that between both the NWBOC and WBENC certification, there wasn’t much of a difference, but, one thing she wished she had known sooner is that obtaining a certification is a better option for women-owned companies that do more business with government and private sectors.
“I believe companies doing business with the government would benefit more from it,” she admitted.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to share the big news. Becoming a certified women-owned business is a great accomplishment, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t let potential and current clients know about it.
“In addition, be prepared to launch your certification on a grand scale, be ready to tell everyone about the addition of your WBENC certification, blast it and include the branding in every form of communication going forward—email signatures, stationery, invoices, social media and website content,” added Steller.