When you’re a construction company competing for new work, especially if you’re a smaller company or women- or minority-owned business, it can be hard to find a seat at the table among some of the more established players. But business certifications are one way to help distinguish your company from the competition and attract new customers. We sat down with Missy Scherber of T. Scherber Construction to learn more about how and why construction business owners should consider investing in these certifications.
The Benefits of Business Certifications
For Missy, who co-owns T. Scherber Construction with her husband Trevor, the decision to invest in business certifications came a few years ago when they started getting in to the commercial side of construction. Having done waste management work for 13 years and demolition & earthmoving work for 7 years with her company, she found that commercial work needed to be approached a bit differently.
“I didn’t see the value in business certifications for our residential work, but when I started building relationships with decision makers in the commercial sector they were instantly inclined to introduce me to the Head of Inclusion & Diversity because I was a woman. What I learned is that large general contractors have full-time staff to make sure diversity goals are being met. I started hearing a similar message when I was in city offices getting permits for our residential jobs. The city staff started asking me if our business was woman-owned and if we had thought about getting certified,” says Missy. “I learned that certification will actually help you get in the door of public work.”
Missy finds that certifications are a great way to help gain both commercial and public work and level the playing field.
“They give you a seat at the front of the room depending on the goals that the public work has,” she says.
Business certifications also open up smaller construction companies to opportunities with larger operations who sub-contract some of the government work to a business with the right certifications to meet the government’s goals.
“I love getting the opportunity to bid and work on big jobs with larger companies because I’m being mentored on how to grow,” says Missy.
Disadvantaged Business Certification Application Process
Missy was a little intimidated to start the application process for some of the business certifications she was interested in because she’d heard that it was difficult and involved a lot of paperwork.
“It was a lot of paperwork, but when you enlist the support of state certification specialists and your team, it's not that bad,” she says. “You probably already have a decent amount of the paperwork but can work with your attorneys and your accounting team to get everything together.”
"Throughout the process we were advised not to limit ourselves to the documents being asked for, but to also include cover letters that really told my story of involvement and my commitment to diversity both as a company and in our hiring practices."
After going through the business certification process, Missy realized how useful a guide would be to help others who are interested in getting started:
Step 1: Research & Evaluate
- Are you a controlling partner or primary decision maker for your business?
- Beyond owning the majority share of your business, you will need to demonstrate that you are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations.
- Research Federal & State Programs
- Federal: To find out more about the federal certification requirements and take the pre-qualification questionnaire, visit certify.sba.gov.
- State: Visit www.ncsl.org for a list of which states have programs for WBE, MBE and SBE certifications and for links to their websites. You can also visit www.aptac-us.org/ to look up procurement consultants to walk you through the process and get you connected to local certifying agencies for free.
- Review the checklist(s) to determine if certification status is attainable for your business.
- Consult your accountant, bookkeper, or bank.
- Many of the documents will be connected to financial and legal documents. Sit down with your CPA, accounting firm, bookkeeper or bank to get support on what it will take to gather those documents.
Step 2: Apply
- Decide which business certifications to pursue.
- If interested in pursuing both federal & state certifications, consider applying for all simultaneously since similar documents are needed for many of the checklist items
- Contact federal and/or state business certification specialists.
- These are government employees hired specifically to assist business owners with the certification process. They are an excellent, free resource – use them!
- If possible and within your business budget, hire a temporary assistant to help with certification paperwork.
- Get prepared & organized.
- Update your resume to focus on your decision-making, hands-on responsibilities.
- Create cover letters that tell your story of involvement in the business. The certification decision-makers do look beyond official documents in the application process.
- If you are a partner in the business, be prepared to discuss all areas of the business—your roles and your partner’s.
- Create a separate folder for each certification checklist item.
- Submit application
- Once all paperwork is ready, it’s time to submit your application for review and approval. Expect a 1-3 month window of approval.
- Prepare for onsite interviews with the certification agencies.