Woman wears military uniform and works on laptop in an office.
You bring unique experiences and skill sets to your business as a veteran. Becoming a certified veteran-owned business can also help you earn contracts, among other benefits. — Getty Images/ Courtney Hale

Being a veteran already sets you apart, and it can also boost your business. Veteran-owned businesses are eligible for federal contracts, and your status can help you win more business in the private sector. Here are five steps you can take to become a certified veteran-owned business.

[Read more: A Guide to Business Certifications for Small Business Owners]

Make sure you qualify

The first step to getting certified as a Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) is to make sure you meet the following requirements:

  • You served on active duty with the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, or Coast Guard.
  • You were honorably discharged or released.
  • At least 51% of your business is veteran-owned.
  • You’re actively involved in managing the company and its daily operations.

Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB) will need to meet the above criteria. In addition, you’ll need either a disability rating letter from the VA or a disability determination from the Department of Defense.

Figure out which kind of certification you need

There are different kinds of certification, and the type you apply for will depend on the kind of business you’re hoping to receive. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Federal contracts: If you’re hoping to win federal contracts, then you’ll need to apply with either the SBA or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA offers free certifications as a VOSB and an SDVOSB, whereas the SBA only offers SDVOSB certification. So if you don’t have a service-related injury, the VA is the option for you.
  • State and local contracts: Some state and local agencies offer their own certification process for veteran-owned businesses. These programs may be a good fit if you’re hoping to bid on state and local contracts.
  • Private sector contracts: If you’re hoping to find more private sector contracts, you’ll want to apply with an advocacy group. For instance, the National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC) and the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA) are good options to consider; however, both organizations require a non-refundable application fee that is based on your company’s annual revenue.

[Read more: 6 Top Resources for Veteran-Owned Businesses]

The VA offers free certifications as a VOSB and an SDVOSB, whereas the SBA only offers SDVOSB certification. So if you don’t have a service-related injury, the VA is the option for you.

Complete your application

Now it’s time to complete your application and receive your certification. Before you apply, you need to ensure you have the following paperwork on hand:

  • Resume.
  • Driver’s license.
  • Articles of organization.
  • Previous tax returns.
  • Payroll information.
  • Department of Defense Form 214.

The exact requirements and how long the application process takes can vary depending on your business entity and where you apply. For instance, if you apply through the Vets First Verification Program, you’ll follow the VA’s four-step process:

  • Intake.
  • Assessment.
  • Federal review.
  • Decision.

Make sure to take advantage of your certification

In addition to using your certification to apply for more government and private sector contracts, you should also display this information in your marketing, as one poll showed that two-thirds of Americans prefer to buy from a veteran-owned business. The agency where you receive your certification may provide a logo you can use to display your status.

It’s also a good idea to join several veteran-owned business listings. Buy Veteran and the Veteran’s Business Network are great places to start.

Keep your certification up to date

Once you receive your VOSB or SDVOSB, you need to make sure you keep it up to date. Your certification is only valid for a set period of time, and then you’ll have to go through a reverification process.

How often you have to do this will depend on where you received your certification. For instance, if you receive your VOSB through the VA, you’ll need to go through the reverification process every three years.

It’s essential to begin the reverification process before your certification expires. Once it expires, your business may be removed from government listings.

[Read more: 5 Business Tips from Successful Veteran Entrepreneurs]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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