If you’re looking to become a women-certified business enterprise (WBE), you may have a lot of questions about the process or if it’s even worth it to go through the application process?
To help you decide, the Black EOE Journal (BEOEJ) sat down with two amazing women-certified business owners — Angela Randolph, founder and CEO of Stellar Ledgers LLC and Dr. Pamela Ellis, MBA, PhD, founder of Compass College Advisory — from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) who spoke about the benefits and advantages of getting certified.
Angela Randolph, founder & CEO, Stellar Ledgers LLC:
BEOEJ: What is Stellar Ledgers and how did you get started?
Angela Randolph (AR): Stellar Ledgers® (SL) is a virtual financial advisory firm that partners with clients as their business grows, offering an exceptional and value-added experience. SL offers bookkeeping, CFO/ controller, financial coaching and consulting services to business owners across the United States. The outsourced financial service we provide helps businesses improve cash flow and maximize profits as they prepare for growth and expansion. We provide the timely, accurate financial data and advice required for growth and scalability in the business. We also help prepare businesses for funding or investment opportunities.
I started the business in 2017 on the side while working full-time bootstrapping to fund operations. I am really passionate about helping fellow women entrepreneurs gain financial freedom, security and build wealth leveraging their businesses.
Dr. Pamela Ellis, MBA, PhD, founder of Compass College Advisory
BEOEJ: What is Compass College Advisory and how did it get started?
Dr. Pamela Ellis (PE): Some parents saw the success of my children and how they participated in educational programs after school and during the summers. When they asked me to help them with their children, that’s when my business started. At first, I helped those parents find the right summer programs, then the right high school, then the right colleges. I based my program off my dissertation research on high school to college transition (what supports students with navigating high school then thriving in college and completing).
Largely through word-of-mouth referrals, my business grew across the country. I met with families virtually who were in other states and opened a small office in Dayton, Ohio for locals. Our center is named Compass College Advisory.
Twelve years later, I am still partnering with parents to help their teen find the right colleges and get scholarships. The results of our work are that 95 percent of our clients have been admitted to their top-choice colleges and the average scholarship is $75,000.
BEOEJ: How did you learn about small business certifications for women and minorities? Why did you decide to pursue certification and which ones have you received?
AR: I first learned about certifications through my local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) Advisor with University of Houston. I decided to pursue these certifications with plans to do business with the government, corporations and other certified businesses expanding my reach and adding multiple revenue streams to Stellar Ledgers. I am an MBE with Houston Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC), City of Houston, Metro, and a WBE through WBEA (WBENC), City of Houston, WOSB with the Small Business Administration and HUB with the State of Texas.
PE: My mom, who sharecropped and only had an opportunity to finish eighth grade, wanted me to stay home after high school. She reluctantly agreed to let me go to a college that she had never heard of. When we took the Greyhound from Memphis, Tennessee to Palo Alto, California, she gave me $70 to cover my expenses for the first year. I thought that was good money until I went to the bookstore the very next day and my books for the first quarter were $350.
I knew my mom couldn’t afford to send me anymore money. I immediately found a job and ended up working 30 hours per week during the school year and up to 100 hours per week in the summers. I had known since high school that I wanted to attend business school, so I decided to apply right after undergraduate to The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Tuck had recently started a professional development program for Black entrepreneurs. I was selected to work in that summer program before, during and after graduating from Tuck. During that experience, I learned about minority and women certifications.
When I started my business many years later, I attended every program I could find. Many of those programs were offered by the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, SBA Urban League and numerous others. The certification organizations would present during those programs and that’s how I then started to learn more about why I also should be certified.
I have received WBENC, MSDC, plus the respective state certifications and decided to do so in order to network, grow my business and develop strategic partner relationships.
BEOEJ: What were your trials and tribulations on the road to certification? How has certification helped your business?
AR: I didn’t have any issues at all with certification. I have an audit background so my records were in top shape and that made submission seamless. The certifications definitely add business credibility and more exposure to contract opportunities, development programs and fellow certified businesses who I can potentially collaborate with or who can become clients.
PE: Wearing too many hats was my biggest trial on the road to certification. Because I answered the phones, handled client delivery, tracked by books, etc., it was hard to keep up and prioritize my time. Since becoming certified, I’ve been able to participate in courses through WBENC that have helped me sharpen my hiring and delegation skills.
The certifications have opened opportunities for me to “be in the room” and gain contracts. With the certifications, my company has steadily grown over the years. Likewise, I’ve been able to participate in their professional and leadership development programs that have helped me with strategic planning, marketing and hiring. The investment has been worth every penny.
BEOEJ: What perks have you embraced from being certified, for example, have you used any of the mentors, peer-to-peer resources, financial advice, attended conferences or conventions, etc.?
Randolph: Yes, there are so many benefits to being a certified business. I’ve successfully completed business development and leadership training sponsored by the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HMSDC) that was invaluable, I am currently a member of cohort 41 of Leadership Houston sponsored by WBEA and so many other mentoring programs I’ve had the privilege to participate in. I’ve also led training workshops for fellow certified businesses in accounting and tax. I’ve attended conferences and conventions for both HMSDC and WBEA, both with great speakers and opportunities to network with others.
Ellis: I’ve attended conferences and special courses for continued learning and utilized the peer-to peer resources. During COVID-19, WBENC offered an amazing program called WEThrive, which gave me an opportunity to work on my business, rather than in my business, during a critical transition for us all. I received encouragement from the other participants to keep dreaming and implementing.
BEOEJ: If you could offer one piece of advice for women business owners thinking about certification, what would you say?
AR: I would definitely encourage women business owners to get certified. It can really open so many doors of development, support and opportunity. Start now by organizing your financials, tax records and business entity documentation so the process can go more smoothly.
PE: The paperwork may feel overwhelming. To get it done, block out a three-hour appointment with yourself to focus on gathering the documents, put on some energizing, feel-good music and get it done. The hardest part is getting started. Once you do so, it’s not so bad. Plan ahead for the notary. Keep digital copies of all the documents you upload. Mark your calendar for nine months away to renew, so that your certification remains current. It’s all worth it. You’ve got this!
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