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What is a veteran-owned business certification, and how do you get it?

Being a veteran is a lifelong distinction, but did you know that it can help boost your business too? Your veteran status can help you land lucrative contracts and reel in new customers, especially if you seek out certification as a veteran-owned small business. There are several different certifications you can get, depending on your business goals.

Why get certified as a veteran-owned small business?

There are two main reasons to get certified as a veteran-owned small business.

1. Ability to bid on federal contracts

First, if you're interested in bidding on government work, getting certified can make you eligible for set-aside contracts. These are specific contracts that are only open to bids from certified veteran-owned businesses.

Currently, the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) offers set-aside contracts for both certified Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs). The rest of the federal government has 3% of all contracts set aside specifically for SDVOSBs.

2. More private-sector business

Even if your business doesn't target federal contracts, getting certified can give you an advantage in the corporate and private world. Many companies maintain a goal for purchasing from veteran-owned businesses, and two-thirds of citizens prefer to buy from veterans according to BuyVeteran.com.

How to get a veteran-owned business certification

Step 1: Decide which certification is right for you

There are several different types of certifications you can qualify for as a veteran small business owner, and the one you should choose depends on your business goals. You can even get multiple certifications if you want, although you should be careful to assess whether it's necessary.

If you're interested in federal contracts, you should seek out certification from one of the following:

  • Small Business Administration (SBA): This free program only offers SDVOSB certification for federal contracts. If you don't have a service-related injury, you won't be able to get certified through the SBA.
  • Department of Veteran's Affairs: This agency offers free certification as a VOSB or SDVOSB for VA contracts.
  • State and local agencies: Some states and local agencies have their own certification programs for veteran-owned businesses, or they may use the VA or SBA certifications. If you're interested in state and local contracts, check with them to see which certification would be most beneficial for you.

In addition, you can seek out certification for private-sector contracts through a couple of different advocacy organizations. Note that these may charge a fee:

  • National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC): This group offers certification as a Veteran-Owned Business (VOB) or Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business (SD/VOB). It charges a fee of $350 - $2,000 depending on your company's annual revenue.
  • National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA): This group offers certification as a Veteran's Business Enterprise (VBE) or Service-Disabled Veteran's Business Enterprise (SDVBE). The fee for certification is $350 - $2,500 depending on your business's total annual sales.

Step 2: Complete your application

Generally, to qualify as a VOSB, a business needs to be at least 51% owned by a veteran who's in charge of the company direction and daily management.

The specific application requirements may vary by the certification program, and it's generally best to get your documents together before you apply to prevent any hold-ups. In general, you should expect to provide these documents, among others:

  • Resume
  • Past tax returns
  • Operating agreement
  • Articles of organization or incorporation
  • DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty)

In addition, if you're applying to be an SDVOSB, you may need to provide documentation from the VA about your disability. Generally, any disability rating will make you eligible to be registered as an SDVOSB, even if it's minor.

Step 3: Get (and keep) your certification

Be prepared to provide additional documents or information after you submit your application. If you're approved, you'll be awarded a certificate that you can use going forward.

Your certification is only valid for a certain amount of time. For example, VOSBs and SDVOSBs certified through the VA need to go through a simplified re-verification process every three years.

Step 4: Use your certification

Now that you have your certification, it's time to use it.

If you're interested in bidding on contracts, you'll need to register your new status with the contract awards management system for whatever organization you're interested in supplying. For example, the federal government uses the System for Award Management (SAM).

If you're more interested in selling to customers and/or corporations and other businesses, make sure you have some variation of "certified veteran-owned business" listed on your marketing materials. It's also a good idea to consider joining veteran-owned business directories, such as those run by BuyVeteran.com and the Veteran's Business Network.

Some organizations provide you with veteran-owned trademarks once you're certified, which may be useful if you're selling products directly to customers. Other organizations, like NaVOBA and NVBDC, offer access to large corporate contracts, such as Fed Ex and JP Morgan Chase.

Bottom line

If you've served in the military, you've earned your veteran status and can put it to work. Not everyone needs to get certified as a VOSB, but for many businesses, it will open doors to new business opportunities.

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