Taming the certification circus.
Growing up, Heather Cox was a typical child looking to stave off the boredom that afflicts most youngsters in a small Southern California town—playing on the backyard swing set with her sister and friends, walking on a tightrope, juggling, and eventually performing in a youth circus. Well, the youth circus may be a tad atypical of most youngsters, but it was a part of life for young Heather.
“My sister and I would make up these circus acts; sometimes we would juggle. We had the tightrope in our back yard also. We would do these little things and go around our neighborhood and sell tickets,” Cox recalls. “And we performed in the Great All-American Youth Circus.”
Today, Cox has shelved her tightrope-walking skills and is juggling the responsibilities of co-founder and president of her firm, Certify My Company, which assists diverse businesses with the certification process, helps increase their visibility in supplier markets, and connects them with the corporations eager to do business with them.
Every business that wants to partner and work with large corporations or federal, state, or local governments knows that it pays to be certified by third-party certification organizations, whether it’s the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Disability:IN, the National Veteran Business Development Council, or some other certifying body. For many, it’s a headache—the paperwork, the screening interviews, possible on-site visits, basically, the overall scrutiny of their business. Then, there are those who don’t want to deal with it and rely on Certify My Company to do it for them.
Cox’s work isn’t limited to diverse businesses. She also works to educate corporations about diversity practices, collaborates with managers of supplier diversity programs to help them reach their diversity goals, including a coveted seat at the Billion Dollar Roundtable, and educates entrepreneurs on business development practices.
“We become their superpower, their superhero, because they have a lot of suppliers that they are doing business with, and that they love doing business with. They also want to be able to benefit from the fact they’re certified,” she says.
Cox, who calls herself “a tireless advocate for diversity,” started Certify My Company 10 years ago when she was pregnant with her first child and trying to figure out what to do with her life. In conversations with successful business owners, she discovered that many wanted to expand their offerings but couldn’t get through a certification application. Cox was unfamiliar with the certification process and the benefits it provided to diverse businesses, so she did some research to understand others’ annoyances.
“The certification process is very detail-oriented,” she says. “When you’re frustrated because you’re not sure about stuff they are asking you for and a client calls, that client [provides] much more instant gratification than that application [does]. That application goes to the bottom of the pile, and you are—again—not certified. I said to them, ‘I will do it for you.’”
This year, Cox decided to spread her wings and add two more service offerings.
Diversity Masterminds is an eight-week course designed for certified suppliers to help them leverage their certification. At the end of the eight weeks, they have a roadmap of what to do with their certification.
“We talk about how to utilize their local and national affiliates, depending on who they want to target; making the target the companies; and how to differentiate yourself,” she says. “Most of the time when [they] go to supplier diversity conferences, [they’re] not talking to people who make the decision about [their] products. We talk about the conferences, how to make decisions, how to win the business, and then go beyond networking—actually how to go to conferences and how to win business.”
On the corporate side, Cox partnered with two other diverse-owned businesses to create Supplier Diversity in a Box. This 12-week program provides any size company what it needs to create and implement a supplier diversity program in a fraction of the time and cost compared to if it did it on their own. “We give them all the tools they need: internal training and best practices, supplier-facing communications to suppliers, and technology to manage the data and reporting. Everything in the program can help them immediately start activating and utilizing supplier diversity to deliver to the company and to their customers,” she says.
Although she doesn’t admit it, Cox’ road to entrepreneurship began long before she founded Certify My Company. When she and her sister sold tickets to their backyard circus performances or performed routines at birthday parties, the entrepreneurial dye was cast.
“I always joke that most people ran away to join the circus, and I ran away to join real life,” she says.