How Certifications Can Benefit Your Small Business — And the Best Ones to Pursue

Small-business owners are always looking for ways to help their businesses grow and thrive. While strategic marketing, customer relationship building, and a clear vision can all support growth efforts, there is one tool that many entrepreneurs overlook: Certification.

Getting your business certified in different areas is in many ways like getting a stamp of approval on the enterprise. To qualify for a certification, your business — or the people working for your business — must meet certain criteria and complete prerequisites, which tell potential customers that you have specific knowledge or experience and/or meet specific standards. While certifications are rarely mandatory, they can make a significant difference in the opportunities your business is able to take advantage of, and the potential for growth.

Small businesses may qualify for several different types of certifications. While the following list is not exhaustive, these are some of the most common certifications sought by small business entrepreneurs.

Socio-Economic Certifications

Federal, state, and local governments operate a number of socio-economic based certification programs designed to help smaller businesses score government contracts. Government agencies and large corporations that do business with the government are required to award a certain percentage of their contracts to small or disadvantaged businesses, but in order to qualify for these contracts, your business must have one of several certifications. Some of the most common include the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business (EDWOSB), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Women Business Enterprise (WBE), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE).

To qualify for such a certification, you must be able to prove that the business is owned, operated, and controlled by an individual who meets the qualifying criteria, i.e., a woman, minority, disabled, or a veteran. If the applicant isn’t a sole proprietor, he or she may be able to prove control by providing proof of 51 percent ownership, that he or she has the highest title and salary, has all of the required licenses, and works full-time for the business during normal operating hours. Again, these certifications are primarily for those companies that wish to apply for government contracts, but for many businesses, those contracts represent a big step toward growth.

IT Certifications

IT certifications are often touted as a benefit for jobseekers and people who wish to move up the career ladder. Completing IT training online courses and passing challenging exams gives professionals tangible evidence of their skills, something that many employers are looking for in applicants.

However, IT certifications can benefit small businesses as well. Similar to socio-economic based certifications, IT certifications can help small businesses gain access to government contracts. According to federal law, any business that does business with the federal government must have a certain percentage of certified IT security professionals on staff. Therefore, if you plan to become a government contractor of any sort, earning a certification, or hiring someone who has a certification, is an important part of that process.

Even if you don’t plan to work with the government, though, IT certifications can benefit your small business. Hiring an individual with certifications like CISSP or one of the Cisco certifications can provide peace of mind that your network is being managed properly, and that there is enough in-house knowledge and experience to handle any problems. Certified IT workers do command higher salaries, but you can actually save money by not having to hire contractors to build, manage, and maintain your network — or fix things when they go wrong.

IT Certifications

ISO Certifications

One of the most common ISO certifications for small businesses is the ISO 9001. Many people believe that the 9001 certification is mostly for big businesses, but that’s not the case. Given that about 95 percent of the businesses in the world are small businesses, the ISO 9001 framework is relevant to even the smallest enterprise.

Essentially, ISO 9001 certification is about improving your business, and supporting growth through consistent and reliable products and services. Via this certification, everyone in the business understand their role in quality assurance and the processes they must use to meet standards, the business is more efficient, and customer service becomes a priority. And while it’s not required, ISO 9001 certification makes your company more competitive in the bidding process for contracts — and may even open up opportunities for new contracts with companies that require ISO certification from bidders.

Again, none of these certifications are mandatory, but when you want to grow your business, improve operations, save money, and compete more effectively against other businesses for contracts, they can make a significant difference. Each involves an investment of time and money, but the payoff for your business can far outweigh any inconvenience that the process requires.