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Updated: March 27th, 2020
The entrepreneur’s journey can feel like a lonely road. As the business owner, you’re the one who has to figure out practically everything. From securing business financing to targeting your unique audience to figuring out how to change the lightbulbs in the office—it’s all on you. At least, it feels that way at times.
But what many small business owners don’t know is that you don’t have to do everything on your own—there are resources available that can give you a boost. Small business certification programs are available that will provide you with one-to-one mentorship, free education, financial resources, and even set-aside contracts. Plus, you can become a member of certain associations to access valuable networks, enjoy discounts, and even find customers.
To help you find the best certifications and memberships, we went ahead and did the research for you. We couldn’t list all that’s available (that would be overwhelming), so we narrowed it down to some of our favorites. The following resources could change the way you do business forever—and most are free or have very marginal fees. So what do you have to lose?
Certifications are critical for some businesses, especially ones that are looking to work with the federal government or want to receive special accommodations. There are tons of different small business certification programs available depending on your career, ethnicity, gender, location, and industry. Here are a few you should consider.
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has several certifications you should consider. Qualifying for these designations could get you access to exclusive government contracts and mentorship opportunities.
8(a) Business Development Program
The SBA created the 8(a) Business Development Program to assist socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners. To see the SBA’s definitions of those classifications, see the glossary at the bottom of this page.
This small business certification program seeks to level the playing field by providing disadvantaged businesses with these benefits:
Woman-owned small business certification
If you’re a female entrepreneur, you can get a woman-owned small business certification to earn exclusive access to government contracts. At least 51% of your business must be under the direct control of one or more women to qualify.
Veteran-owned small business certification
Veterans and service-disabled veterans can register their business to earn top government contracts. Certifying your business as veteran-owned is a lengthy process, but the benefits are well worth your time. Not only do you get access to veteran-first contracts, but you also get the assistance of the nation. 70% of Americans prefer to do business with veteran-owned companies rather than non-veteran-owned ones—that’s some support you can’t pass up!
Certified B corporations are a revolutionary form of businesses that are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on several constituents: the environment, employees, customers, suppliers, the community, and more. Classic examples of B-corp Certified companies are Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s. So, what’s the point of living up to these strict requirements to get a small business certification?
Well, consumers have claimed to buy sustainable goods over non-sustainable alternatives (even if it costs more), and now research shows they practice what they preach. According to research, “products marketed as sustainable grew 5.6 times faster than those that were not. In more than 90% of the CPG categories, sustainability-marketed products grew faster than their conventional counterparts.”
Getting certified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) can earn you tax credits, grants, and fee waivers. LEED encourages businesses to adopt sustainable business practices by awarding points based on your green initiatives. You’ll earn points according to the construction, design, operation, and maintenance of your business—these points determine which LEED Certification you qualify for.
Business associations offer unique opportunities to network with like-minded entrepreneurs and get access to expertise, training, and customers. If you’re ready to ditch the lonely entrepreneurial road and embrace small business camaraderie, here are the memberships you should consider.
For businesses that target local markets, there’s no better resource than your local chamber of commerce. First, find your local chamber here. Joining will cost a small fee, but the following benefits are worth it:
Look through this list of trade associations and trade shows to find ones that are unique to your niche and target market. Associations like these can help you network with the right people and get an inside look at what’s hot in your industry. Plus, membership in some associations provides discounts on purchases and insurance.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is an association that advocates on behalf of America’s small and independent business owners on both a state and federal level. As a member, you’ll add your voice to thousands of other small business owners as they influence legislation. Plus, you’ll get access to small business discounts, events, forums, and more.
You don’t have to do it all alone. Thanks to these certifications and memberships, you can get the individualized help your small business needs. We’ve covered some of our favorites here, but there are plenty more where those came from. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what industry you serve, there are resources available to boost your small business—you just need to find them.
Samantha Novick is a senior editor at Funding Circle, specializing in small business financing. She has a bachelor's degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Prior to Funding Circle, Samantha was a community manager at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Her work has been featured in a number of top small business resource sites and publications.