Last week we fielded three calls about getting diversity certified, and while each caller had very specific questions they all had one in common — how long will it take me to get certified? These calls come from business owners who want to get certified for a particular reason; usually because an opportunity they want to pursue is seeking providers that will help the end client meet its supplier diversity goals. So, our callers weren’t thinking about certification from a planning perspective. They saw it as an immediate need and were hoping to get good answer — but, there is no good answer. Why?
There are so many certifiers! At least 51 (each state and the federal) government agencies offer Minority and/or Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) certifications, based on the federal Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation standards. Then, many states have alternative certifying agencies which may certify based on different criteria. And, to complicate matters, there are many third party certifiers such as the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the National Women’s Business Owners Corporation, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Business Leadership Network. Each agency has its own backlog of applications and site visits, holiday and vacation schedules, and number of resources dedicated to certifying business … it would be impossible to guess an average length of time to get certified.
In talking with these callers, we shared some stories about our own experiences:
- How in August 2012 we submitted an annual update form to one state and got a letter December 11th saying they needed additional information — four months to get from submission through desk review to their request for more material. Not sure when we will receive our actual renewal notice. And we’re already certified by this agency.
- In September, we submitted our annual update to another state. Two months later we got a notice that they hadn’t received paperwork. Resent it via Federal Express only to get an email apologizing — they had it, just couldn’t find it. Things can get lost; we just have to smile through the agony.
- Site visits can be difficult to schedule. The ones that take place via phone are fairly easy. But we have one client who waited for three months before the certifying agency could actually conduct the site visit. Six weeks after that, the certification was issued.
If there is no good answer to “how long?”, then what? Certification is a tremendous marketing tool for a legitimately diverse business. Getting and maintaining certification is a long term commitment. The application process can take three to six months from beginning to actual certification award and it is followed by annual updates and a complete re-application every third year for many certifiers. You have to be prepared to invest the time and resources necessary to make the process work for your business.