Socially or economically disadvantaged small business owners may be interested in applying for SBA 8(a) certification, which allows exclusive access to sole-source federal government contracts. This is not a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, but rather an opportunity for small businesses to compete for federal government contracts. As with any federal program, there is an application process. Understanding this process before you begin will make applying easier for you.
The SBA 8(a) Application Process
Applying for SBA 8(a) certification is a relatively simple process, although one that requires some patience. Preparing for your application in advance can prevent some frustration. If you haven’t already done so, the first action you should take is to register your business with the System for Award Management (SAM).
Registering Your Business With the System for Award Management
Prior to doing business of any kind with the federal government, you will need to register your business with SAM at its website. The registration process is simple and can be completed online easily.
To register your business, you will need to visit the SAM site and create a user account. Once you have created your account, you can log in and begin your SAM registration.
To complete the registration, you will need the following information for your business:
- Your taxpayer information, which is either a taxpayer identification number (TIN) or employer identification number (EIN)
- Your data universal numbering system (DUNS) number
- The types of goods and/or services your business supplies
- The size of your business
- The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code your business falls under
- Point of contact information for your business
It does take some time for your registration to validate and appear as an active listing, so you will want to complete this step in advance of submitting your SBA 8(a) application. In my experience, it can take up to two weeks for a new SAM registration to show as active when a government agency searches for it.
You can check the site periodically to verify whether or not your registration has become active. An active SAM registration will shorten the turnaround time of your certification application.
Preparing All Necessary Documentation
To complete your SBA 8(a) certification application, you will be required to upload a number of documents as you submit your application. To make the process easier, it’s best to identify which documents you may need and scan them into PDF form prior to starting your application. You will need to provide documentation regarding your business as well as documentation about yourself as the business owner.
Some examples of documents that you may need to provide with your application include:
- Business legal and organizational documents like articles of incorporation, partnership agreement, bylaws, and certificate of good standing
- Joint venture documents like mentor protégé agreements and consulting agreements
- Business bank account signature cards
- Federal tax returns for the past three years
- Balance sheet and profit and loss statement
- Loan documents for any business loans
- Personal tax returns
- Evidence of citizenship
- A narrative describing how you meet the socially or economically disadvantaged requirement
A complete list of documents needed can be found as a link on the Certify SBA site.
Locating or acquiring this documentation might take some effort, which is why you should gather and scan as much as possible prior to beginning your application online. Having these files saved electronically and easily accessible on your computer will make the online application process go much smoother.
Completing the Online SBA 8(a) Certification Application
After gathering and scanning all required documents into PDF form, you will be ready to complete your SBA 8(a) application on the Certify SBA website, which begins with creating a user identification and password for your account. To establish a user ID, you will need to provide your name, valid email address, and password.
Once you have established your user ID, you’ll connect your user profile to your business. Establishing your business in the certify.SBA.gov system is done by providing your DUNS number, TIN or EIN, and your marketing partner ID number (MPIN) from the SAM website. You will also need to verify your business type, such as limited liability company (LLC), S corporation (S-corp), or partnership.
After linking your business to your user profile, you will select the 8(a) program from the list of choices. The application will begin prompting you to answer a series of questions and to upload your supporting business documents. Once you have completed the application, you will be directed automatically to a dashboard page that will show that the system successfully received the application.
You will receive a letter in the mail informing you whether or not your application was approved for certification. If approved, your business profile will be listed in the Dynamic Small Business Search indicating your approval and exit date for the program. Federal contracting officers will use this system to locate businesses that have the ability and capacity to fulfill their contracting needs.
While applying for SBA 8(a) certification is not as daunting as applying for other SBA programs, it still requires that you provide a substantial amount of documentation. To save time, it’s best to gather and scan the documents in advance so that they are readily available as you are completing the online application.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the SBA 8(a) certification application, or if you applied and were denied certification, you may want to consider working with an SBA 8(a) consultant. Since they are familiar with the SBA 8(a) certification process, a consultant can help you complete the application and guide you on how to provide the necessary information needed to prove that you—as the business owner—meet the socially or economically disadvantaged requirements of the program.