Certification. Proposal. Supply Portal. These terms might strike fear in your heart if you’re familiar with them. But if you are a minority business trying to break into government and corporate supplier ranks, they are your best friends. And while they don’t necessarily suggest the most glamorous or fun parts of doing business, these terms represent the nuts and bolts of how things get done in the supplier diversity world. Understanding each of these minority business resources is critical for growth and success. Let’s break them down.
Becoming a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Women Business Enterprise (WBE), or Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE)—to name just a few programs—will give you access to better financing, networking, and business opportunities. In the case of government and corporate contracts, it is usually a prerequisite—you can’t get your foot in the door without certification. “Are you registered?” is one of the first questions I am asked when I talk to corporate reps at conferences and meetings. You may want to avoid it like the plague; or you may determine that multiple certifications are worthwhile for your business—either way, I encourage you to get at least one. ATR is a certified MBE, and it has been integral to our success.
The process involves assembling a fair amount of data and plenty of “paperwork” that needs to be completed, but the effort is well worth it. Organizations that certify businesses, such as the National Minority Business Development Council (NMSDC), the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) or the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), can guide you through the process. Truly, there are tons of consultants and firms you can hire. Do your research, talk to other owners, and take the time you need to get it right, but figure out which certifications are right for you and attain them. It will open doors, plain and simple.
Whether called a vendor, procurement, or supplier portal, they all do the same thing: facilitate communication between a company and its supply chain. They cover a broad spectrum of tasks and functions depending on the organization and its business needs, but generally, they are a primary way that companies communicate orders, RFPs, and other requests for goods and services. They also provide an avenue for potential vendors to submit bids, proposals, or other product offerings and information.
Some companies require you to receive an invitation from Procurement or their Supplier Diversity Program, which underscores the importance of networking, outreach, and developing relationships. However, many portals are open and are used to solicit information and evaluate potential new suppliers, particularly minority businesses, as well as educate and provide information on their business and purchasing needs. You can learn about the company and its needs to see if your company is a good fit for them. The portal then becomes a way for you to proactively get noticed, provide your qualifications, and hopefully become an approved vendor.
Government entities, corporations, colleges and universities, and other large organizations have mandates or goals around diversifying their supplier base, not to mention giving minority businesses a level playing field to bid on and win work. They want to achieve these goals. They want to hire you. Help them by using their tools.
The term proposal encompasses a variety of types. A request for information (RFI), for example, is when a company wants to know about your company and the services you offer. A request for proposal (RFP) is more formal and involves a company asking for information on a specific product or solution they need. And finally, a request for quote (RFQ) is usually looking for detailed pricing, often for a complex project or a large, recurring order. The key word here is information. A proposal is the formal way that companies solicit information, choose vendors, and award work, so it’s important to be prepared.
Companies will usually provide guidance on their proposal process (check the portal!) and often schedule group conference calls to discuss specific proposal opportunities. Take advantage of this. Submit complete and comprehensive information about your firm. Don’t overlook anything or leave any questions un- or under-answered. Most of the information requested is standard (leadership bios, financial, etc.), and the questions asked are often very similar (How would you do this? What makes you different or better?) which means that you can proactively collect data and refine your answers ahead of time. You can then tailor them as needed to the specifics of any particular RFP. This will save time and reduce the stress that usually accompanies this time-sensitive process.
I know so many wonderful, committed people working to improve supplier diversity at companies everywhere. I also know that these organizations are balancing the realities of the size and complexity of their procurement operations with the need to connect to and employ a wider range of vendors. These tools are part of that effort and can make a real difference for any minority business that uses them fully.
Don’t miss out on these and other indispensable minority business resources! Reach out to Angelique, our Head of Supplier Diversity and Inclusion, to learn more.