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Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise Certification. 

The process and benefits of Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Certification (starting at 11:52) to help grow your small business with Sheena Thomas.

Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Certification with Sheena Thomas

Sheena is a 25-year supplier diversity program and diversity certification program professional. As the first Black woman Executive Director of the only two regional certification agencies in Texas, she was responsible for the certification of over 40,000 combined applicants and was the Supplier Diversity Coordinator for the nation’s largest natural gas distributor, Atmos Energy.

Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise Certification – a designation given to businesses that are primarily owned, managed, and controlled by individuals who are women or belong to a recognized minority group. This certification offers these businesses better access to certain public contracts, training, and financial opportunities.

She launched Lengo Strategic Partners in 2016 and helps minority and women owners gain access to corporate and government contracting opportunities by securing their M/WBE certifications. Lengo Strategic Partners also supports corporate clients by developing and enhancing supplier diversity programs. She is a newly published author with her debut collaboration project, “Building Beyond the 9 to 5” a collection of stories from Black women professionals and entrepreneurs.

Minority, Women-Owned, Disadvantaged, and Small Business Enterprise Certifications offer entrepreneurs access to local, state, federal and corporate contracting opportunities.

You can also learn more about M/WBE certification at Sheena’s YouTube channel Applied 2 Certified.

Sheena lives in Glenn Heights, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

Episode Host: Henry Lopez is a serial entrepreneur, small business coach, and the host of this episode of The How of Business podcast show – dedicated to helping you start, run and grow your small business.

Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise Certification:

  • Why did you decide to focus your career and business on diversity challenges?
  • Please introduce M/WBE Certification. What is it, who is for, and what are the benefits? (Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise Certification – a designation given to businesses that are primarily owned, managed, and controlled by individuals who are women or belong to a recognized minority group. This certification offers these businesses better access to certain public contracts, training, and financial opportunities.)
  • What are the eligibility criteria for obtaining M/WBE Certification? What does a business need to prepare before applying?
    • The business must be majority (51%) owned by a minority.
  • How does the certification process work and who controls this?
  • Are there any costs associated with obtaining the certification?
  • How long does the certification process take?
  • How long is it valid for?
  • When should a business apply?
  • How does a business owner determine if it’s good for their business?
  • What are the additional benefits or advantages of being M/WBE certified? Any disadvantages or responsibilities?
  • Can the certification be used in any state or municipality?
  • How do you help businesses with M/WBE certification?
  • How does a business owner learn more about M/WBE certification?
  • Where do you start with M/WBE certification?


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Special offer for The How of Business listeners, sign up for Relay using this link and you’ll also get $50 added to your account once you fund your new account.

This episode of The How of Business podcast is sponsored Relay. Relay is an online banking and money management platform for small business.

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Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise Certification:

Henry Lopez (00:26):

Thanks for being with me this morning. We’re going to tap into Sheena’s incredible expertise on the topic of minority and women owned business enterprises and that certification, that government certification that comes with it, we’re going to explore what that’s all about and why you should possibly consider getting certified if you’re either a minority or woman owned business enterprise. So that’s what we’re going to focus on this call, excuse me, on this episode rather it’s a call, but also an episode. And if you want to receive more information about how a business, including the show notes page for this episode and how you can continue supporting my show and receive workshop discounts and join my monthly group coaching session all through a Patreon membership, just visit the how a I also encourage you to subscribe to my show wherever you might be listening so that you don’t miss any new episodes.

Henry Lopez (01:22):

So Sheena is a 25 year supplier diversity program and diversity certification program professional as the first black woman executive director of the only two regional certification agencies in Texas. She was responsible for the certification of over 40,000 combined applicants and was the supplier diversity coordinator for the nation’s largest natural gas distributor Atmos Energy. She launched a Lango strategic Partners Lango Strategic Partners in 2016, and she helps minority and women owners gain access to corporate and government contracting opportunities by securing, as I mentioned at the outset, their m slash WBE certifications that stands for minority slash women owned business enterprises. Lango strategic partner also supports corporate clients by developing and enhancing supplier diversity programs. She’s a newly published author and her debut collaboration project is entitled Building Beyond the Nine to Five, which is a collection of stories from black women professionals and entrepreneurs. Sheena lives in Glen Heights, Texas, which is a suburb of Dallas, Texas where I used to live. And so once again, Sheena Thomas, welcome to the show.

Sheena Thomas (02:42):

Thank you, Henry. I’m so excited to be here with you today.

Henry Lopez (02:45):

Well thanks for doing so. And let’s start by your career, which is interesting and inspiring. Tell me about your early career after university. Well, we can start there. What did you study at university?

Sheena Thomas (02:58):

So funny story, I actually went in as a pre-med major and when I almost failed chemistry, my dad said, listen, you need to find something else to do because this is not your path. And so I decided to just major in business administration and following college actually while I was in college, when I would come home for summer breaks and Christmas holidays. My dad was a military navy captain and so there was no sitting at home. You had to work. So initially that’s how I got started in the certification field. He was the executive director of an agency here in Arlington and I would come to work and sit at the front desk, take in applications, talk to applicants, thank them for dropping off their information and just kind of moving the documents from one person to the next. And that’s really where the passion behind minority businesses was sparked for me.

Sheena Thomas (04:01):

I started as a front desk clerk and just kind of moved my way through the company going from that to a certification specialist and then many, many years down the road finally my first opportunity to be executive director of the San Antonio Agency, the South Central Texas Regional Certification Agency was provided. And so really I tell folks all the time, it’s nothing that I could have ever learned in college because there aren’t any degrees in B M W B E certification programs. It was really on the job training, reading regulations, understanding the different nuances to various programs, but that ultimately is how I got to where I am to today, was really being forced to get off the couch and go to work with my dad. And it just opened up a completely new world to me.

Henry Lopez (04:57):

And that model, obviously that he represented about serving and giving back, that has to have been a big inspiration I suspect.

Sheena Thomas (05:05):

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I don’t think you can have a passion around this and not be willing to love the service of it.

Henry Lopez (05:15):

What did you see even early on that were some of, I mean some of it is obvious, I’m sure we can all understand even if we’re not minorities, but what were some of those key things that you’ve seen throughout your career career that minority and women-owned businesses are particularly challenged with?

Sheena Thomas (05:33):

I mean, honestly, it is just the access to resources and information. That’s the main thing. By access to resources, it’s more than just the back office, but it’s access to capital, access to bonding for those that are in the construction industry, access to the opportunity to actually build your business. A lot of folks may not understand, but when you become certified as a minority owned business, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to any contract that’s out there. You still have to market your business as if you weren’t certified. And so with that, being a newly started company or even firms that have been established for some time, gaining access to those contracting opportunities is even more difficult because you haven’t provided that past historical presidents, you don’t have a resume of significantly large projects. And so without that type of capacity, it’s difficult for businesses to gain access to the type of funding capital, the resource to equipment, being able to rent some of that large equipment is based on the capacity of your business in some cases. And so that really is probably the most difficult hurdle that businesses businesses face.

Henry Lopez (06:59):

Right, right. Yeah, I understand that as well. And sometimes it’s also related to that, just the knowledge of how to go about this and being exposed to that and not having had that exposure has got to be part of it as well. Is that fair?

Sheena Thomas (07:14):

Oh, absolutely. You don’t know about minority women business certification unless you are an owner that’s seeking to do business with a municipality or a federal agency and it’s mentioned in one of their how to do business seminars. And it’s at that point that you start to figure out, okay, I need to know a little bit more about this and how I can leverage this. Well, one, get it and then leverage it to build my business.

Henry Lopez (07:42):

Yeah. Alright. So then what leads, going back to your career, what leads you to decide, I’m going to start my own firm?

Sheena Thomas (07:49):

Really it was bridging that gap between the applicant’s successful application and then leveraging that certification to build their business. And so what I saw in my role as I worked within these certification agencies was one, there was this lack of true education behind what a minority women business enterprise certification was and then how do you use it? They were being told get certified, they would apply for certification and then once they would receive it, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. And so basically

Henry Lopez (08:25):

It goes back to that point you made about there was probably the assumption, oh, I just get this certification and then all of a sudden contracts will come my way.

Sheena Thomas (08:31):

Absolutely. And so they have this piece of paper on their wall and it’s of no value to them. And so I started lingo to bridge that gap to do more than just the certification, but to educate business owners on how to actually use this certification to scale and grow their businesses.

Henry Lopez (08:50):

Did you envision when you were younger, earlier your career that you would start your own business?

Sheena Thomas (08:56):

Absolutely not. My dad was also an entrepreneur and I watched him, he had a flower shop, he had a consultancy business, and I watched him and I was like, I’m never going to do that.

Henry Lopez (09:11):

And why was that? Did you see the headaches or the problems and that you didn’t want any part of that or why did you get that impression?

Sheena Thomas (09:20):

To me, it looked to be so difficult, and I remember him with his flower shop most poignantly, and it was the flowers he was spending there listening to him on the phone with floral vendors and not getting certain flowers in, and then it was affecting his ability to complete arrangements watching him with the staff. I mean, it seemed to me like he was always stressed and I was like, I would just never want to do that. But I didn’t get to really focus on how much he really loved it. There was a lot of love behind him owning his own business, and I never really got to see that part of it. I got to hear about it, but what I really witnessed was just the toil and that was very reflective in what I saw in many of the owners that would come through the certification agency was just the toil of starting their businesses, trying to get traction. They get that first contract and then what happens next? They’re still out here hitting the concrete, trying to gain more and more business. So yeah, I was just like, I’m never going to do it.

Henry Lopez (10:31):

Yeah, no, I can understand that. It is very common for children of entrepreneurs to have that impression and it’s because we don’t realize as entrepreneurs it sometimes that’s all we bring home is the pain, the issues, the challenges, the fires, the problems, and our kids pick up on that. And so we have to be, as entrepreneurs, we have to be careful with how we model that for our own kids. But where are you now in your business? How have you been able to avoid that part of it that seems so negative to you back then?

Sheena Thomas (11:07):

So I have a son and we have an open dialogue, and so a lot of what I do in business, I talk to him about, he asks me how are things going with lingo mom? And so I’m very honest about how they’re going, but I also try my best to always have a story of gratitude or at least mention how much I love what I do, that there’s passion behind what I do. It may be difficult, but this is what I want to do. So I think trying to make sure that I give him some of the real, but also make sure he understands that mom still really loves this and this is what really brings me a lot of happiness and joy.

Henry Lopez (11:50):


Sheena Thomas (11:51):

Try to balance it for

Henry Lopez (11:52):

Him. That’s right. Alright, so let’s get deeper into it. If you could introduce for us, if you would please, what is M W B E certification? What is this?

Sheena Thomas (12:02):

Right, so M W B E certification is a designation that’s given to businesses and it’s based off of the companies majority ownership and control being with minority women, and I’ll also say underrepresented groups because there are veteran business enterprises out there, disabled individual business enterprises, disadvantaged business enterprises. And so wherever, whichever designation you’re applying for, the ownership of that company must be 51% owned and controlled by members of that particular group. And so it then becomes a leveraging tool for your business to gain access to contracting opportunities, be it with local, state, federal government as well as corporate entities.

Henry Lopez (12:51):

And who administers this certification?

Sheena Thomas (12:54):

So there are several certification agencies out there, some are vetted, some are not. You do have agencies or councils rather that are a part of the national council system. So you have the National Minority Supplier Development Council and they certify minority business enterprises. They have a national council but also regional affiliates. Then you have the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, they have regional affiliates as well and they certify only women business enterprises. But then you also have within states, if you’re looking at Federal Department of Transportation authority opportunities, you have what we call unified certification programs, which are comprised of the state’s highway administration. So is, for instance in Texas is T. You also have the aviation administration that’s a part of that unified certification program, so all of your major airports and then the transit administration, which includes your bus and subway systems.

Sheena Thomas (13:59):

So there are many, many certifiers out there. The key is to make sure that you are applying to a vetted and recognized certification agency, and if you go to any corporation’s website, if they have a supplier diversity program, they will list those recognized certifiers and always I’m a resource as well if you’re interested in knowing is this really a truly certifying agency? But there are those out there that are not recognized that will require significant application fees to get certified and are not attached to any of the particular corporations or municipalities. So you have to be careful about that.

Henry Lopez (14:43):

I had assumed Sheena that this was either at the federal or the state level, but that’s not the case here.

Sheena Thomas (14:52):

Right. It is federal state as well as the corporate level, so national and also locals, some of your cities, they actually provide the certification,

Henry Lopez (15:06):

But is it following a national or federal guideline or is it every program has its own rules and process for the certification and what that means?

Sheena Thomas (15:17):

Right, so if you’re looking at the federal government, there are two main certification guidelines. They are both federal guidelines. One is going to be under the US Department of Transportation. They use a federal regulation to certify all of their DBEs and ac C D B E firms, your other federal agencies are going to fall under the Small business administration and there’s a separate set of guidelines utilized for SS B A designations and certifications. Then you also have state guidelines. For instance, here in Texas you have the historically underutilized business designation that’s given at the state level. That’s a separate set of guidelines for certification, and then you can drill down even lower than that your local certifications. So you have local ordinances that will drive some local M W B E certification programs depending on where you’re located in the US and then of course you have council certifications, which is on the corporate side and there are separate regulations that govern those certifications. So yeah,

Henry Lopez (16:28):

My head is spinning already, Sheena, so let me see if I’m following. So far, I could have multiple certifications based on the type of work that I’m trying to seek, but if I’m following you correctly, correct me here where I’m wrong. The first step for me is to determine what type of business or with whom I’m trying to do business, whether it’s a department of transportation at the state level or an individual entity, organization, corporation, and see what programs they are affiliated with. Am I on the right track here?

Sheena Thomas (17:01):

Absolutely. That is the best place to get started. Find out who your proposed client is and then that will lead you to the correct certification.

Henry Lopez (17:12):

If I’m not there yet and I’m thinking, well, let me just learn about this and get a certification to start with, do you guide people with, okay, based on where you live, the type of work that you’re going to do or what your business focus on, you might recommend a particular certification?

Sheena Thomas (17:31):

Absolutely. So I generally give four steps when I’m talking to prospective clients and the first thing I ask them to do is find out who their client is, who do they want to do business with? The next thing is to determine whether or not this certification makes to their current business model. So for instance, if they have never done business with corporations, is it something that you plan to do in the next year or two? And if it is, then we now know we need to focus on council certification, so there’s no need to look at federal certifications right now. Those are the two things that we talk about at the top of our conversation. The next thing I tell folks is figure out how the contracts are funded. That will also tell you what type of certification you need to get. If it is a federally funded department of transportation procurement or contract, hands down, there is a requirement for disadvantaged business enterprises or DBEs. There’s no getting around that, but if it’s locally funded by let’s say the city or the county, then an M B E or W B E certification may work for you. And then also, which is important for any entrepreneur is identify what that return on investment is going to be. Because even though there are nominal application fees for certification, once you start that process, you have to pay every year or every two years to renew that certification.

Henry Lopez (18:57):


Sheena Thomas (18:57):

Those are the four things that we normally talk about in a call because that helps me identify one, which certification they need to work on right now, and then two, it helps give them a little bit more to work with as far as how effective this certification might be for them based on these other variables, based on the fact that you have to renew this and you’re going to have to pay for it. And so if there isn’t an opportunity that you’ve identified with a corporation or municipality, meaning if they’re not buying what you’re selling right now, then you need to do some more homework before you go through this process because it may be that they never procure your service or product and then you have this certification that’s really not of much benefit to your business.

Henry Lopez (19:41):

Right. Yeah, well said. Thanks for sharing that and explaining that. So can you give me a range, a broad range of what these fees and then the renewals, what are we talking about here range wise?

Sheena Thomas (19:53):

Right. Most of them are going to be between 250 to maybe $400 to get your initial certification. The councils, they have a sliding scale, it’s based on the total revenues of the business and some other agencies just have a flat rate based on the type of designations you get. So if you get one designation, it may be $150 and then they tag on an extra a hundred dollars for an additional designation, but that’s really the range between about two 50 to $400

Henry Lopez (20:24):

And then the renewals or a portion of that is something similar to that. How does that work?

Sheena Thomas (20:29):

The renewals are the same.

Henry Lopez (20:31):

The same. Got it. So we had to renew it again. Got it. Okay. Thanks for sharing that. Alright, going back to the eligibility, obviously you mentioned the 51% ownership by a minority in the designated category. I’m assuming that might be different depending on the certification that I’m seeking. Is that correct?

Sheena Thomas (20:48):

Well, 51% is going to be the standard across the board, but

Henry Lopez (20:51):

As far as the minority group, does that vary or is that mostly the same across all of these different certifiers?

Sheena Thomas (20:58):

It’s mostly the same across all the different certifiers. The only nuance you may run into is the small business enterprise designation, which is only based on the size of the business. Got it.

Henry Lopez (21:13):

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Henry Lopez (22:05):

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Sheena Thomas (23:15):

Right, so any type of business structure is applicable, so you can apply as a sole proprietor corporation L L C partnership, you must be able to independently operate, meaning you cannot be dependent on another company using resources such as staff equipment, even if there appears to be as a small business, we have these things called subcontractor agreements, and so if you are only a sub with one particular prime on all of your work, that could throw a flag that there may be some dependence issues here, maybe you’re not able to obtain work outside of your relationship with this prime contractor. You also must be able to prove up your capital investment, meaning how did you acquire your interest in the company? That can be through a transfer of money from your personal account to the business account. It could be that you went out and purchased equipment and that is now a part of your contribution to the company. Expertise is also another area. This is one of the main areas that most businesses get denied is because they cannot prove up both technical and managerial competence in these two areas. It doesn’t mean

Henry Lopez (24:30):

That you have to show that you have an ongoing entity that’s properly funded, that you are indeed a majority owner and if you are the minority and that you have competencies that you can actually, that this is an operating business. In other words, I’m not going to be able to get the certification if I’m thinking about starting a business,

Sheena Thomas (24:50):

Right, the company has to be fully recognized by the state. You must be an operation now you can get certified as a startup, meaning you don’t have any clients, but you have to show that you are a operating company, meaning it can’t be an idea. Correct.

Henry Lopez (25:07):

Right, right. But I don’t necessarily, it could be that I’ve started this business for the purpose of seeking these contracts and part of that will be getting the certification, so that’s okay as long as I’m properly formed and funded.

Sheena Thomas (25:20):


Henry Lopez (25:21):

Yeah. How long does the process take, more or less? Does it

Sheena Thomas (25:26):


Henry Lopez (25:26):

On the certifier or how long does it take Sheena?

Sheena Thomas (25:29):

The majority of these agencies have up to 90 days to provide a certification decision, and this is 90 days from the date that your application is deemed complete by that agency, so not the date that you submit it. Generally they get the certifications done within those 90 days. However, there are some agencies that may extend that time depending on their current application volume. I want to touch on a point as far as the application being complete. When you submit it in that timeframe beginning, most applicants turn in incomplete applications and so your applications may be sitting with that agency for 30, 60, 90 days before you’ve submitted all of your information. This is one thing that I teach business owners never to do. You never submit an incomplete application

Sheena Thomas (26:14):

Because that timeframe is going to double or triple for you. Once you submit your application, they’re going to do what they call an initial review, which is where they just go down that checklist to make sure that you’ve submitted everything. And if you haven’t, they’re going to request that information. If you don’t submit that information in a timely within the timeframe that they’ve provided, they can now respond to your application and make you go through that process all over again. So it’s critical that you have everything in your application when you submit it. One to limit the request of additional information, but two, to make sure that once you submit it, your application can be deemed complete and you can start that time, that 90 day timeframe. That 90 days is so critical because most businesses are vying for an opportunity and so most of the times they don’t get certified before they need to reply to that solicitation or that R F P, and so that certification cannot be counted towards that, which means they miss out on those points. So it’s very important that one, you submit it complete, but two, you make sure that you’re submitting your certification well in advance of an opportunity that you might have because that timeframe really can impact your ability to leverage that certification.

Henry Lopez (27:31):

Yeah, that makes sense. It requires some planning there. It makes it difficult. Certainly that’s why makes more sense, not that you can’t do it for an ongoing concern that’s now looking to pursue a particular contract. I’m planning ahead. I know that I need or would be advantageous to have the certification, so that’s got to be part of the planning process as then I respond to an R F P as an example.

Sheena Thomas (27:53):


Henry Lopez (27:55):

So we’ve talked about some of the mistakes to avoid. You just touched on the incomplete application. Obviously you have to be properly qualified, it’s got to make sense. In other words, a type of business or a segment of a business that you’re going to go after that determines what type of certification I get. Are there any other common mistakes that you see small business owners make as it relates to this?

Sheena Thomas (28:19):

One thing is embellishing. It’s important to realize that these programs were implemented to give minority women businesses a fair or level playing field. And so when you’re filling out these applications, don’t embellish, and that’s a nice way of me saying, just don’t lie on your applications. Some of these applications require personal net worth statements and so don’t make yourself look as though your net worth is more than it actually is. Don’t design documents to make it appear as though you have more control than you actually do because these certification specialists are trained, I’ve trained specialists in the past to look for certain things in your application, and so if you’ve submitted this application, which is notarized and often comes with a fine, some come with imprisonment as well for embellishing on your applications, if you do that, that is a guaranteed denial. So don’t do that.

Sheena Thomas (29:24):

Just tell the truth. It is what it is. Another thing that I see business owners fall into, I like to call the pitfalls, is when it comes to compensation, sometimes we think, well, I’m a small business and so I can’t compensate myself, especially businesses that have multiple, remember that your compensation has to be commensurate to your position in the company. And I give the example of if you were to pull the tax returns for Google, apple, Microsoft, I can guarantee you that the president’s c e o is not paid less then than the vice presidents or the directors within the organization. And so compensation there is commensurate to their position in the company and it has to be the same for your business as well. So that’s also another area that throws a red flag for certification.

Henry Lopez (30:16):

Understood. Great. Thanks for sharing that. So obviously there are all of these advantages. Are there any, other than the cost, carrying the cost and we talked about that, are there any disadvantages to getting a certification?

Sheena Thomas (30:31):

The only disadvantage that I would say is if you get it and you don’t use it,

Henry Lopez (30:35):


Sheena Thomas (30:36):

Then of course it’s been a waste of effort and money, but honestly the advantage is far outweigh any disadvantage that you would find with certification. And I’ve been doing this, like I said, for 25 years and I haven’t seen a disadvantage in being certified. Can’t

Henry Lopez (30:54):

Imagine. Yeah, right. Again, it’s that point. I think that’s where maybe most people are confused as I was that there are all of these different certifications, so selecting the one that makes sense and within the timeframe that I’m going to take advantage of it, ideally, that’s the component that we need to consider to make the best investment of our time and money and these certifications.

Sheena Thomas (31:16):

Absolutely. Yeah. And additionally, if I can, when we talk about advantages being a part of these councils and agencies open up resources for you as well. The councils for instance, do a really great job of introducing you to corporate buyers.

Sheena Thomas (31:35):

Those buyers are the ones that are making the decisions on all of the procurements for that organization. And so to sit in front of a buyer and introduce your business and talk about what your value add to their organization is going to be is priceless. And these luncheons could be $25, some of them are free once you’re certified with those councils. So that’s a huge advantage that you have that other businesses are not getting. It’s a chance to eat and introduce your company. And I’ve seen some of these buyer luncheons businesses walk out with contracts in hand, bids in hand. So that’s a huge advantage to being there as well as the opportunity to just be in a database that’s accessed by these corporations, by these municipalities. I can’t say free advertising because you’re paying the application fee for certification, but when you think about it, $250 for a year and you’re in this database that any of these agencies could pull and then invite you to a procurement, that’s also priceless. Your R o i right there.

Henry Lopez (32:40):

Yeah, no, the exposure there, it goes back to what you started with the point about access, right? Access to these resources, making these connections that you otherwise may have never gotten on these people’s radar. Not to mention meeting them. And even if you don’t get anything that first time you’re learning, you’re observing, you’re developing those relationships, you’re observing how others are doing it, and that’s tremendous exposure.

Sheena Thomas (33:04):


Henry Lopez (33:05):

Alright. Tell me a little bit more about how you, specifically through lingo, how you help people become certified and the other services that you provide.

Sheena Thomas (33:15):

Right. So with Lingo, we provide a full service certification management solution. We walk our applicants through every part of the process and so we complete the application for them, we help you get all your documents together. You’d be amazed how many folks think they have everything and then we start asking for minutes of their last annual meeting and they’re like, oh, we don’t hold annual meetings. Well, you have to. You’re a corporation. So we help you gather all those documents, but we take it a step further than just putting the application together. We perform an audit on your documents to make sure that really everything aligns with what you’re telling us as far as when you establish the company who owns the company, who’s in control of the company, all of those changes that everything is clearly documented. We then perform an issue of concern analysis, which is where we take your application and we put it up against the regulations for that particular certification.

Sheena Thomas (34:16):

And if there are any areas that we deem would cause an issue of concern or a denial letter, we let you know what those are, but we take it one step further and we help you remedy those areas within your application before submitting it to the agency. We respond on your behalf to all of the additional requests for information. And we also provide site visit coaching because site visits are a part of the certification process. They’ll come out to your organization, even if you’re home based, they’ll come to your home. So have a dedicated space in your home where you’re doing business, but they’ll come there to interview you. If you have employees, they’ll interview your employees. We coach our clients through that as well, so they’re prepared. Then we take it a step further after you have received your certification, because we do have a 100% success rate, we then introduce you to buyers.

Sheena Thomas (35:10):

We help provide you with a capability statement template as well as a three deck pitch slide, which in my experience, being on the other side of the fence and managing these supplier diversity programs, there’s certain things that we look for. And so being able to provide our clients with what that template is helps them gain access as far as that initial conversation and hopefully moving forward with a contracting opportunity. So that’s what we do for our certification clients and we also provide free resources as an entrepreneur. I understand that not everyone has that discretionary money to hire a consultant. And I started my company to educate people on how to go through this process successfully. And so I do have a YouTube channel, it’s applied to the number two certified, and I provide free resources via video to help walk you through the process and explain what certification is, the different certifications and how you can use those to your advantage.

Henry Lopez (36:16):

Excellent. Excellent. So tell me about your fee structure. Do I pay an upfront fee for that entire process? Is it a monthly retainer? How does that work?

Sheena Thomas (36:27):

So we do have flat rates and it’s based on the type of certification that you are seeking. We do things flat rate just because it’s much easier, but also I have clients that come in and they want to get two or three certifications at one time. And so for those particular instances, flat rates work out best, but we’re able to at that onset bundle, those certifications under one rate. I do not have a retainer per se, because really the certification process should not be something that is ongoing,

Henry Lopez (37:01):


Sheena Thomas (37:02):

There’s a

Henry Lopez (37:02):

Finite process, more or less,

Sheena Thomas (37:04):

Very much so.

Henry Lopez (37:06):

The other question I had is I could immediately think, well, this is going to extend that 90 day process, but I suspect the reality is because you help people get the application in complete and correct the first time, it usually accelerates the process. Is that fair?

Sheena Thomas (37:23):

Yes. On average, most business owners spend six months to 12 months trying to put their application together for certification. I see.

Henry Lopez (37:35):

You mentioned that part of it. I didn’t understand that they come and do a site visit. What are they looking for?

Sheena Thomas (37:41):

Oh, great question, Henry. So during a site visit, they’re one coming to make sure that you are who you say you are and that you are actually managing the operations of the business. Those are the two primary things

Henry Lopez (37:54):

I see.

Sheena Thomas (37:55):

Next they’re looking for, especially if you listed equipment, they want to see where the equipment is. They also want to make sure that you have the technical competence. So they will ask you questions specific to projects that you’re currently working or contracts that you negotiated and executed, and then they will interview your employees to make sure that your employees know who the owners of the company are. I’ve done side visits in the past and interviewed employees and they didn’t know who the owners were or they named other individuals. Right?

Henry Lopez (38:27):

Because I can see where people might try to say, oh, Susan is our minority owner, but we’ve never seen Susan. We don’t know who Susan is. Right. So I gather that part of the criteria is that majority owner has to be an active participant in the business.

Sheena Thomas (38:43):

Absolutely. Absolutely. So please do not be employed outside of your business if you are the 51% owner that will not work for certification,

Henry Lopez (38:54):

Even if I’ve got this as a side hustle, that’s not going to cut it.

Sheena Thomas (38:57):

Right. What they’re looking for certification is that you are managing the day-to-day operations of your business and you are in charge of that. And so if you are employed outside of the business, I’ll give you an example. If you’re an engineering company, you’ve started an engineering firm, yet you are still employed with someone else as a full-time engineer, the main question they’re going to ask is one, when do you operate your business? Because most engineering firms are operating during normal business hours, and if you’re employed elsewhere, how is your business viable? How are you actually providing a service or product because you, realistically you can’t. So that’s why being employed outside of the business is such a detriment to small minority women owned businesses that are going through this certification process.

Henry Lopez (39:46):

Yeah, makes sense. If you are in the stage where you are doing this, this is hide health, so you’ve got to grow to a point where it is your primary source of income, you’re doing it full-time before you would consider applying for one of these certifications.

Sheena Thomas (40:01):

Yes. Now, there are some very, very small instances where outside employment has worked. These have been for businesses that don’t operate during your normal eight to five. So I’ve seen this in the space of janitorial firms because generally they’re cleaning office spaces after hours. So that has worked for some owners, but even then there still is that question of during your normal business day, that’s when potential clients are calling and engaging with you. So how are you able to contract? How are you able to negotiate? How are you able to do these things in order to win these contracts and then provide the janitorial services to these organizations? So there still is that question of your ability to manage the operations when you are employed outside of the business.

Henry Lopez (40:51):

Yeah, makes sense. Makes sense. Alright. The question I always ask is where I, if I have just this knowledge of what you’ve shared, where do I start? I think where I start is to use that library of videos that you have on your YouTube channel. What else do you recommend in addition to that for people to get started with understanding this?

Sheena Thomas (41:10):

Right. Yeah, definitely go to the YouTube channel. Also your certification agencies, they have videos on their website as far as how to walk through their certification process. So that’s a really great place to start. It also can get you introduced to the additional documents that you will need to submit with your application. And then your chambers of commerce do a really great job as well. And other advocacy groups in having how to get certified events. Most of these events are going to be specific to a certain certification agency, so there will be a representative from that agency there. But those are all great places for you to at least get started with understanding the concept of certification, the nuances of the different certifications, and then the requirements for those certifications.

Henry Lopez (42:01):

Excellent. Great resources. And then I know obviously you offer a free consultation. What step in the process should I reach out and schedule a consultation with Lingo?

Sheena Thomas (42:13):

I think anytime. If you think this is something that I want to do for my business or I want to find out more about it, then definitely book a free consult and we can talk through all of your questions. But anytime is a great time.

Henry Lopez (42:26):

Okay, excellent. Alright, we’ll start to wrap it up. Obviously I had mentioned the book that you’re a collaborator on beyond building beyond the nine to five, but I’m always looking for a book recommendation in addition to that one, is there book that comes to mind that you would recommend?

Sheena Thomas (42:42):

So I actually have two Henry. The first one is Essentialism, which is the Discipline Pursuit of Less by Greg McEwen. I love this book, I read it early on in my entrepreneurial journey and it really speaks to just the discipline of discerning what is absolutely essential for your business and eliminating everything else that is not,

Henry Lopez (43:03):

I have not read that yet, but it’s been recommended. But I can see where that helps with dealing with the overwhelming, a seemingly endless list of things that we have to get done. Is that how one of the ways it’s helped you?

Sheena Thomas (43:16):

Absolutely. It really taught me to look at opportunities or things that I consider to be opportunities in a much more focused mind frame to really determine whether or not this is something I need to pursue

Henry Lopez (43:31):


Sheena Thomas (43:31):

Something that I need to

Henry Lopez (43:31):

Say no or say no. Yeah, exactly.

Sheena Thomas (43:34):

The other is become your own boss in 12 months. It’s by Melinda Emerson, and this is a really great practical kind of step-by-step guide to launching or tightening up your business. And so I think this has been helpful for people that are thinking about leaving corporate and becoming entrepreneurs. You may be kind of straddling the fence and doing both right now, or you’re a full-time entrepreneur, you’ve been in the space for a while and some of your systems are just not working. This is a really great step-by-step application of tightening up those things and making your business more functional, more efficient.

Henry Lopez (44:14):

Wonderful. Two great recommendations. Thanks for that Sheena. Alright, we’ll wrap it up here. What’s one thing you want us to take away from this conversation that we’ve had about minority women business enterprises and the certification process? What’s one thing you want us to take? Sheena

Sheena Thomas (44:32):

Certification is totally attainable and if you’re thinking about it, do it now before you really need it.

Henry Lopez (44:42):

Two key points there, and I suspect the first one comes from your working with people who fear like, oh, I won’t qualify, or It’s a difficult process or, so that’s partly why you say that, that it’s attainable. Yes,

Sheena Thomas (44:57):

Absolutely. It is attainable. It may not seem like, it may seem very daunting because it is such a cumbersome process gathering documents, but it is completely attainable for you.

Henry Lopez (45:08):

And then the second part is what we’ve talked about. Give yourself, make sure you understand that there’s a process here. It could take up to 90 days or more. Get the help that you need to make sure that you get the most out of that process and expedite it as much as possible and make sure that you’re prepared for it. So that’s the second part of it. Making sure you understand that it takes some time to get it.

Sheena Thomas (45:31):


Henry Lopez (45:33):

Tell me again where you want us to go to learn more about the services that you offer.

Sheena Thomas (45:37):

Absolutely. You can go to my website, it is lingo That is L E N G O F O C and everything is there.

Henry Lopez (45:50):

Excellent. Alright, and we’ll have a links to that as well on the show notes page to this episode at the how of In case you didn’t get all of that, that’s where we’ll have those links as well. Sheena, great conversation, very educational, very informative. Thanks for taking the time to share, answer all of my questions and be so transparent. This was a wonderful episode. Thanks for being with me today.

Sheena Thomas (46:13):

Thank you, Henry. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Henry Lopez (46:17):

This is Henry Lopez and thanks for joining us on this episode of The How of Business. My guest again today with Sheena Thomas. I release new episodes every Monday morning and you can find a show anywhere you listen to podcasts, including on my YouTube channel, the How of Business YouTube Channel, and my website, the How of Thanks for listening.

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