Leveraging Your Woman-Owned Business

Posted in [President's Corner] By BloggerBob

After returning from the 2007 National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) conference in Atlanta, I realize more than ever the value of this peer community and resource group that is available to female business owners.  I have been in business for over 16 years, and until recently, I have not leveraged the benefits available through NAWBO or similar organizations that support women in business. 

If I had it all to do again, or if I was advising a new female business owner, I would recommend getting involved with NAWBO (www.nawbo.org).  In addition to providing a great networking group of women who like to support other women business-owners, this organization provides excellent educational resources, access to corporations that both support and advocate doing business with female and minority owned companies, and links to the organizations that provide valuable “woman-owned” certification processes and credentials. 

Each year, NAWBO sponsors a national conference featuring top-notch keynote speakers (Gloria Steinem, among others in 2007), valuable break-out seminars, round table sessions with procurement experts from top corporations, a resource-filled trade show, and social events to encourage networking and idea sharing.  NAWBO also has local chapters that provide support and educational sessions on a regional basis.  For some helpful post-session materials and handouts, visit NAWBO.

2007-2008 NAWBO President Lisa Hickey and NAWBO Executive Director Erin Fuller
with conference keynote speaker Gloria Steinem.

In the past, I have woven my way through the web of becoming certified as a female owned business in my home state of Connecticut, and the path has been both frustrating and fruitless.  Through my conversations with other business owners at the NAWBO conference and at the Enterprising Women conference recently in Orlando (sponsored by Enterprising Women Magazine at www.enterprisingwomen.com), I saw example-after-example of how others have broken into corporate markets that are very difficult to penetrate as a small business owner.  I learned the ropes of where and how to obtain certification that will help our company bid for business that large corporations “set-aside” to support female and minority owned businesses.

I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help others move their businesses ahead and leverage the valuable resources I have discovered.  The primary certification recognized by the majority of corporate and government agencies is available through www.wbenc.org.  The application process is extensive, so plan time to pull together the supporting documentation, and be prepared for a review and on-site interview process that takes a full 90 days to complete.  Once certified though, you will earn a credential that will open many new doors, giving you access to government procurement opportunities and an entrée at Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies alike.  Your success will only be as great as your ability to make those contacts and follow through to showcase the benefits of your product or service, but it’s a great head start—and one that I wish I had discovered many years ago.

For a great resource book on the process and benefits of certification, as well as sales tips to break into corporate procurement circles, Susan Phillips Bari’s book entitled Breaking Through is an excellent reference.  This book may be purchased through www.wbenc.org or at Amazon.com.

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