Certification It's all about gaining a competitive edge in doing business, especially with the Federal and state governments. What is a competitive advantage? Simply stated, it's what differentiates your company from any or all of your competitors in a way that's important to a prospective customer's decision to buy your product or service versus that of your competitors.
How do companies differentiate themselves? According to Richard J. Otero Sr., former owner of RJO Enterprises in Prince Georgeís County and Founder and President of EZCertify.com, there are six fundamental strategies that can be used, alone or in combination with one another. They are:
- Price - That is how Wal-Mart, as the low-price provider distinguishes itself.
- Quality - This is Mercedes Benz, BMW's and Rolex's claim to fame, whether real or perceived, and you pay a premium price for it.
- Ease of Use - Human friendliness and ergonomic design are what Microsoft software/Windows and AOL have depended upon to become national leaders.
- Speed of Service - Next Day Blinds, Lenscrafters and even Dominos Pizza have used this ploy in the commodity markets of window blinds, eye glasses, and fast-food.
- Customer Perceived Value - Such brands as Nordstrom and Publix Grocery stores are known for their "well above-average" level of service and customer relationship maintenance.
- Different - Being unlike others is a fundamental technique used by the Satellite based radio providers, HBO, BET and Univision.
How does being certified provide you with an opportunity to differentiate you and your company? Here are but a few of the ways:
- Price - Being certified can mean that your prospective customer need not buy from the lowest bidder, if you demonstrate other important values to them to contract with you.
- Quality - Being certified can mean that your prospective customer can buy from you if you can convince them that you are better, even though more costly than your competitors.
- Ease of Use - Being certified can mean that your prospective customer can avoid developing detailed procurement specifications and having to organize and conduct complex and lengthy competitive procurements, subject to "sore-loser" protests.
- Speed of Service - Simpler procurements are faster procurements, and that means that your prospective customer can get your products or access to your services in a fraction of the time as that which is available through competitive bidding.
- Customer Perceived Value - Being certified can mean that you are available quicker, easier, simpler and on more personally accommodating terms to your prospective customer than most of your competitors.
- Different - Being certified can mean that you are unlike the remaining 99.9% of all other small businesses that are not certified, just because of the fact that you have this important procurement assistance tool that you can share with your prospective customer.
What are the various types of certifications that are available to you to enhance your ability to do more business with the Federal government and the state of Maryland? The five most important certifications are:
- 8(a) Business Development - The SBA's 8(a) BD Program, named for a section of the Small Business Act, is a business development program created to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the American economy and access the Federal procurement market.
- Small Disadvantaged Business - The SBA's Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) program is very similar to the above 8(a) program without the added benefits of any business set-asides for SDB certified companies, but with the procurement assistance benefits of price evaluation adjustments and proposal evaluation credits for contracting with SDB-certified firms.
- HUBZone Empowerment Contracting Program - The HUBZone Empowerment Contracting Program stimulates economic development and creates jobs in urban and rural communities by providing Federal contracting preferences to small businesses. These preferences go to small businesses that obtain HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) certification in part by employing staff who live in a HUBZone. The company must also maintain a "principal office" in one of these specially designated areas. The program resulted from provisions contained in the Small Business Reauthorization Act of 1997.
- Maryland Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program - Both the Federal DBE and MBE Programs are usually considered the Maryland MBE Program and seek to achieve a percentage of MBE participation on State issued contracts. Certification as a DBE provides greater exposure for work opportunities on Federally funded State projects.
- Maryland Minority Business Enterprise Program - The Maryland MBE Program seeks to achieve a percentage of MBE participation on State issued contracts. Certification as a MBE provides greater exposure for work opportunities on Maryland state funded projects.
The Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recognizes the importance of certification in government procurement for its members and, therefore, it provides training and mentorship opportunities to enable minority-owned companies to achieve this important milestone.
The Chamber has prepared a comprehensive comparison among these five certification programs that can be downloaded here. The table identifies the basic eligibility requirements to be certified for each program, and also provides a glimpse of the real benefits from holding any one of the certifications shown. Also depicted are the contract awards in dollars made within each certification program in fiscal year (FY) 2004, together with an overall personal evaluation of the relative merits of each program, and a means to link to either the SBA or to the Maryland Department of Transportation to get additional information about each of these programs.