Getting certified as an LGBTQ+ can open doors, increase contacts, and give you mentorship to help take your business to the next level.
By Kim Folsom
In Part 1 of this article, we covered who can get LGBTQ+ certified, how it can open up doors for your business, and how it can differentiate you from the competition. Now we’ll talk about the mentorship and support certification can provide, paying it forward in the LGBTQ+ community, and some tips for applying for certification.
We recently convened an expert panel of LGBTQ+ business leaders, and their insights are represented here.
Access NGLCC programs that support your growth
Mentorship and support is a big benefit of LGBTQ+ certification. You get access to all of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) programs, so you can take advantage of things like:
- Monthly webinars with expert advice, information and education from other certified LGBTQ+ businesses.
- Mentorship from other successful LGBTQ+ business owners.
- Access to a scholarship opportunity for Tuck’s School of Business Executive Education Program at Dartmouth.
- Special business discounts from LGBTQ+-owned and allied corporate partners.
- Invitations to important national supplier events for networking opportunities.
Pay it forward
Another big benefit of LGBTQ+ certification is that you get to pay it forward and serve as a role model. By publicly joining a network of other LGBTQ+ professionals you can set a positive example for others in the community who hope to start a business.
“For me, the biggest benefit is being a part of this ecosystem where everyone’s just really, really proud,” said Michael Cox, Founder and CEO of Black San Diego Magazine.
Tahjar Roamartinez, Founder and CEO of Cyber Warfighters Group, added: “We truly shoulder each other up, we are massive in our size, and in our culture itself, because we’re like fourth, fifth class citizens, unfortunately. So we really lean on each other and we’re very close.”
Roamartinez said she had some apprehension about coming out and getting certified. She feared a backlash, but the opposite turned out to be true. “Once I went out saying I’m LGBTQ+, it was a breath of fresh air [and helps people know] there is no glass ceiling. We busted it wide open…. Here we forge a culture of acceptability and love.”
In the end, Roamartinez said she did lose one customer. “But that’s okay, I gained so much more,” she said.
“I think it’s part of our job as entrepreneurs here who have businesses and who, obviously, are successful entrepreneurs, to be that voice, and to be that guide for others,” Pantoja said. And I think that’s where I see the business going forward, being that beacon to provide guidance to others.”
Tips for applying for your LGBTQ+ certification
The NGLCC has a four-step application process: 1) complete an online application, 2) schedule a site or virtual visit, 3) wait for your application to be reviewed, which can take up to 90 days, 4) join an orientation webinar once you’re approved.
Like with anything, you have put in the effort and do it right.
“Get all your ducks in a row to apply,” said Paulette Pantoja, Founder and CEO of Blu Digital Group. “Once you have all your documentation together, the process goes rather smoothly.”
Cox agreed. “I think it’s like any certification where as long as you check the boxes off, you’re fine,” he said.
Get support if you need it. Other LGBTQ+ business leaders who have been through it are willing to lend a hand.
“It’s more than just the certification,” Cox said. “The LGBTQ+ national chamber of commerce is more supportive than any other chamber I’ve joined,” he said.
You can also join your local LGBTQ+ chamber as well, Roamartinez pointed out. If you do, the certification fees are waived. Sometimes you can quickly establish relationships at your local chamber, if you have one, and that might be a quicker way to get questions answered.
Most importantly, if you decide to apply, if you decide an LGBTQ+ certification is right for your business, you have to follow through. You can’t just let an unfinished application sit on the shelf, our panelists all agreed. If you want it, you have to make it a priority, put in the time, and see it through.
Learn more about LGBTQ+ certification at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). And, as always, here at Founders First CDC, we’re always here to help.
Kim Folsom is the founder and CEO of Founders First Capital Partners, which has helped accelerate the success of hundreds of small, service-based, business-to-business companies since 2015. Visit our website to learn more.