Heather Cox: Co-Founder & President of Certify My Company

Episode 348

You’ve heard about all the certifications out there for companies but do you know which ones might be beneficial AND how to get it for your company? Heather Cox, Co-Founder & President of Certify My Company started Certify My Company to help companies and entrepreneurs with demystifying the certification information and daunting process. We hear all about Heather shares what you need to know about some of these programs and how they will help you and your business. She has taken an idea that she was passionate about and turned this idea into not only a reality but a fledgling business. I can’t wait to hear this episode now on this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest. Here we have Heather Cox, who is the co founder and president of Certify My Company. And you should definitely know about certify my company. Heather and I met a few years ago, I was so impressed with how her company helps companies and entrepreneurs with the certification process specifically geared towards diverse businesses, but also guiding other businesses on sustainability efforts. She’s going to talk a little bit about how kind of the focus has changed over the last few years as well. But Heather’s mission has always been to really help entrepreneurs with just different processes that they don’t know about that she’s learned a ton about. And she’s taken an idea that she had that she was super passionate about and turn this idea not only into a reality, but a fledgling company. So we love those stories. And I can’t wait to hear more about her journey, and creating certify my company and also how she’s helping so many people. So without further ado, welcome Heather.

Heather Cox 2:00
The Guild very excited to be here.

Kara Goldin 2:03
Super excited. So let’s start at the beginning. I would love for you to share with our listeners who aren’t familiar with certify my company, how would you describe it?

Heather Cox 2:14
I describe certify my company as a supplier diversity consultancy, specializing in diversity certification. So that sometimes means a lot of people and sometimes means absolutely nothing to people. So we really focus on working with other business owners, entrepreneurs, and then navigating the process of getting diversity certified. So they can take advantage of bigger contracts at bigger companies, or the government or the fortune 1000 really diversifying their supply chain because at the end of the day, that’s how they make more money.

Kara Goldin 2:50
Interesting, very, very interesting. So Was anyone doing this before, I mean, obviously, their certification processes, but was anybody kind of really sitting hand at hand to sort of focus on you know, the breadth of them and really helping people to really understand what’s going on.

Heather Cox 3:09
So before us, there was really only one person and to this day, I would say there’s really only one other company that I ever consider a true competitor, she is no longer in business, she decided that she was ready to retire or, or, or live the life of luxury, whatever she wants to do, but she’s not working anymore. And she actually was very instrumental in that transition of our business. And it was Sarah Lou. And she was doing diversity certification facilitation for other entrepreneurs. And some of the corporations had engaged her like the fortune 1000 to work with their suppliers. And when she decided she didn’t want she wasn’t didn’t want to work anymore, or was ready to do something else with her life. Her corporate clients asked her to choose her replacement. And she chose us it because she interviewed other people, and she said they’re the best. And so to this day, there are other companies who say they do what we do. There’s nobody else that does it to to the level of expertise that has the same cybersecurity the theme team, the same knowledge that we do. So there are other people who will say that they can help you.

Kara Goldin 4:16
It’s not the same. So interesting. So what were you doing before this?

Heather Cox 4:20
So before this, I was always doing sales and operations and I love sales in general. And you know, my husband grew up in a house where they said salespeople are like the shady people, but really I think salespeople are people who want to share passions now there’s definitely Okay. we’ve ever been to a timeshare sales pitch. You know, there’s definitely hardcore not so nice salespeople out there. However, I really love the fact that getting to know people. I genuinely enjoy other human beings for the most part, so that part’s always fun for me. So I did a lot of sales, and I was leading a sales team at like a cookware company for a while. I worked for enterprise fleet leasing for a while I did a lot of different various sales pieces. But then, when I started my family, I do that corporate America didn’t love. Mommy’s very much wasn’t so always friendly to Mommy’s. And that’s when I was thinking to myself, What do I want to do, I knew I had to work. I just didn’t know what that was going to look like, which is when I started speaking to all these other working women, some were part time, some were full time. Some were executives, some were entrepreneurs. And I loved the entrepreneurs, I thought they were amazing. They just their energy, their effervescence, like, everything about them was just drew me in. And so eventually, and as you can tell, I’m super shy. So when I was asking them a bunch of questions, I would say, you know, tell me more about your company, what does it do? What are the struggles, and a few of them started mentioning this certification application that they couldn’t get done. Now, these were people running 110 20 $40 million companies. And then I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t do an application. It just didn’t. I was so confused by that. They’re very smart, resourceful people, they couldn’t do an application. So I went home, I did a little research. And in that same kind of time period is when I met my co founder who had been certified for years. And she said, Yes, it’s a problem. People do not cannot get it done. It’s not rocket science. It’s just it takes a lot of time. It’s detail oriented was something called in California is not what is called the New Jersey. So I said, I can figure it out. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. None at all. But you know, 13 years later, here we are the experts in the industry. And so that’s really how it kind of all came together. They took that sale, that passion that that operations mindset, and then lead it on to this specific process.

Kara Goldin 6:56
So interesting. So how many different certification programs if you had to guess, like, how many are there,

Heather Cox 7:04
there are a plethora of certifications out there. Yeah. However, they are not all created equal. Most states have their own certification process. And I want to just take a second if if you don’t mind and just kind of break down the demographics we’re talking about, because that will make a difference in what we’re talking about. So there’s generally five different categories of diversity certification, there’s women, ethnic minority, LGBT, veteran, and service disabled veteran, and then there’s the disability owned business enterprises. Now that one means that the company is owned, operated and controlled by one or more people with a disability as defined by the ADEA. So it’s not just mobility impairment. It’s not just hearing impairment, but it’s everything from thyroid conditions, a sleep apnea, ADHD, anxiety, depression, autoimmune disorders, anything that can impact your ability to run your business if you don’t manage it. So that being said, most states have a program for women and or minorities. Some have for service disabled veterans, a handful have for disabilities, I think one or two have for the LGBT. So that’s the state programs. Now the state programs get you all the state contract. But if you’re looking for the fortune 1000, for example, if you want to sell to target, you want to get into Macy’s, or Johnson and Johnson, one of those bigger companies that site, that type of company, then they’re looking more for the private sector certifications, which is what our specialty is we of course, facilitate state certifications as well. But the private sector, that is our that’s our sweet spot, for sure. And so that’s really the variance. So I use people say, I want to get web e certified Heather. So that’s like saying, I need a tissue. Well, do you want Kleenex? Do you want Scott, do you want to talk to Rand, do you want?

Kara Goldin 8:59
And what is WB E for those of you or for those people listening? Who don’t know what that is?

Heather Cox 9:05
That’s an excellent question. Because yes, I speak in acronyms quite often. Yes, the Women’s Business Enterprise. So there’s Women’s Business Enterprise, Minority Business Enterprise, LGBT Business, Enterprise, veteran and service disabled veteran business enterprise, and then the disability owned business enterprise

Kara Goldin 9:23
data. And so when you when people say they want to get web certified, what I mean, what do you do with that at that point? So you probe and ask them like, you know what, specifically and take me through that.

Heather Cox 9:40
So somebody calls and says, I want to get web certified. I say, Okay, tell me about your business. Who you currently working with? Who do you want to work with? And what is your what are your hopes and dreams for your sort of for your company? Because if you say I only want to do business with the federal government, well, that is a very different conversation than if you want to do both. This way, again, target or Johnson and Johnson or Bristol Myers Squibb, one of those companies. So because first of all, they recognize different certifications, but also, the private sector certifications, offer executive training, mentorship programs, pits competition, they offer a lot more for an entrepreneur to really take a hold of and run with and maximize the heck out of in order to grow and scale their company than the state certifications do. So if you really want to get in and grow your company and be on the shelves of target next to headwater for example, right, then we want to know we have to get you the right certification to be able to make those introductions because what the certification is, is it access to opportunity, it’s not a magic wand, it is a tool. And so it’ll get you that access to speak to the person inside these companies. But it’s not going to sell for you, you still have to be just as good, if not better, and just as competitively priced as everybody else out there. But when push comes to shove at the end of the day, when there’s two of them, and they’re thinking, Oh, these companies are both so good, who are we going to choose? Oh, they’re certified also as a diverse business. Now that now the the everything’s just tipped the scales in your favor.

Kara Goldin 11:11
So you mentioned, like the targets of the world, also the government of contracts of the world. So is it a significantly different application than for those types of certifications? It’s pretty, pretty simple. That’s

Heather Cox 11:27
the same the state and the federal certifications, oftentimes will have personal net worth, or gross sales caps for the businesses and the entrepreneurs, the private sectors do not, they want you to be a billion dollar business, they want to see you grow as much as you can. So they do not have any thresholds as far as personal net worth or company gross sales.

Kara Goldin 11:48
Interesting. So supplier diversity has become a big word, a big, I should say in in the corporate world. So what exactly is the clear definition of supplier diversity? And how can it be beneficial for business owners to really have this in their company.

Heather Cox 12:13
So supplier diversity is the buying of goods and services from diverse owed businesses. Now the reason certification is important is because if we want to tout all the metrics, and all the success that companies have both the entrepreneur side and the fortune 1000 side, we need to be able to measure and count what you can’t measure what you can’t count. So we need to have these certifications. Now, if you are a fortune 1000 company, a large organization, study after study shows that companies with these robust supplier diversity programs actually make more money, they have a higher return on their investment from their supply chain, their shareholders do better, which is usually the decision making right there, right, the shareholders do better. And so they want to have these programs, it also brings them into new customers, new any anything, if the last few years showed us anything that having a small supply chain, didn’t do a whole lot of good for a lot of these big companies. And I give you a really funny but very great example of that. One of our clients is a is a vodka company Square One organic vodka. And, you know, during the pandemic vodka was really important to a lot of people, especially when you were working and homeschooling children. So they had a lot of times that they that they like so one of our clients went into this one to her her local Kroger and she noticed that the vodka shelves were substantially empty. So she had she was women, oh, and certified, we bank certified Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, she reached out to the Kroger representative that she had met at an event and said, I noticed the shelves in my local Kroger were kind of empty and people need their vodka right now. And so to see, they said, she’s up, I can help you, I can get you I can get you like up on yourself. And guess you got a place on the shelves. So we’re interesting, right? Because I think the supply chain issues that came up during the pandemic, a lot of the companies now are realizing we need to have local suppliers as well. We need to have suppliers that are more nimble, that don’t have to get 15 levels of approval to get something done. When our corporate clients ask for me to change something in a proposal, I don’t have to hem and haw and go up the ladder, I have the ladder, I can make all the decisions they need me to make. So it’s a lot of the preparation these large organizations understood. Wow, we have not that we’ve been doing ourselves a disservice at the end of the day by not, you know, having the bog guard people need on the cells when they need it. So that’s like one of the things that really came out of the pandemic.

Kara Goldin 14:35
So what are some of the stores? I mean, as it relates, you’ve mentioned Kroger, so they have a local program what who are some of the other ones that have local diversity that acknowledge diverse suppliers at the local level that you’ve seen.

Heather Cox 14:51
So the but 97% of the Fortune 1000 have a program and it’s not necessarily just the local level. That was just an example of a local right so think about you know, A lot of these companies are looking for the diverse suppliers. Now, they do like to have some, especially with retail consumer products, they do like to have these local options as well, in the case of the supply chain issue, right, but it’s an add on the beauty of that, though, is, you know, think about way back when sometimes when you start a company, you can’t handle a national contract with Walmart, you just can’t. So companies like Walmart will say, Okay, this company, we think they’re amazing. They’re a fantastic product, they’re a fantastic this, but we’re gonna give them these five stores to start with, right? And then let them grow into it, which is an amazing opportunity that you’re not doesn’t always come around to be able to have that opportunity to grow with a large organization like Walmart. Okay, so I’m using retail products, it’s tangible, it’s easy to understand. Plus, you know, I don’t know if you know about the Walmart study from about six years ago, seven years ago, you know, that study? Which one, but I know I saw that there is that women control about like 83 to 85% of all consumer decisions out there. And they control trillions of dollars of consumer money of money right there, right? So they want it and I’m going to paraphrase the don’t Google these exact words, because that will not come up that they want to more that money in their pocket, because yeah, they’re for profit business. That’s what they’re there for. Right? So they pulled their customers and they said, if you went in to buy, for example, shampoo, again, I’m paraphrasing, and one was easily identifiable as women owned and one was not, would you be more likely to buy that product? Now, what percentage of the female consumers the one that are making that 83 to 85% of consumer decisions? Were more were said they’d be more likely to buy a product if they can easily identify it as women owned. One number. Karen, do you think said that?

Kara Goldin 16:47
90% 90%. All right, sir.

Heather Cox 16:51
All right. So good guests. That just makes easy. But just so you know, you know why unintelligence Magazine did the same study, because did you know pre pandemic, again, probably has been up since 70% of all wine purchases were made by women. So interesting. You do that? Alright, so they went in, and they were like, okay, 70% of wine purchases, would you be more likely to buy a product and that same 90% said, Yes. Which is why women of the mind and spirit created that logo that says women owned on their bottle, that you can now buy an alcohol in a wine product that says it’s women owned, just for that reason, because it’s about sales, it’s about people wanting to put their money. You know, people want to know where their money stolen out with an ever before. So true. So by understanding that you’re buying a woman founded woman led woman owned company, that is very different than just buying something that another company is, you know, popping out over and over again. And so that made a huge difference.

Kara Goldin 17:46
So, so interesting. So it’s evident that you love what you do you, you mentioned that, that your business has changed significantly, as I was mentioning to you that I love the fact that you’re supporting entrepreneurs to kind of figure out how to help them grow their business, but you’re also an entrepreneur yourself. This is the first company that you’ve started and and definitely has. You’ve seen really, really amazing success, what has been some of the like, biggest learnings like what would you do over again, if you were to, you know, look back on sort of those early days? Would you Is there anything in particular that comes to mind?

Heather Cox 18:32
I would definitely have hired sooner, I will not try to do as much myself as I think that I would have definitely hired a bookkeeper way earlier. Because I think as entrepreneurs, we’re very tend to be very resourceful people. But up, we could do it all, why would I spend the money, but at the end of the day, it’s costing you so much more money to do it yourself. So I think that I definitely would have hired my first hire sooner, and I would have outsourced my bookkeeping. What much sooner?

Kara Goldin 18:57
Yeah, that’s, that’s what many, many business owners say. Because then you’ve got to go backtrack and try and figure so much stuff out. Absolutely. So and what other pieces of advice would you give to other business owners, whether it’s related to certification or whether it’s getting a bookkeeper? Or is there anything else that comes to mind when you when you’re telling your, you know, 20 year old self, here are some of the key things that you need to remember?

Heather Cox 19:28
So I would say what I often tell other entrepreneurs is it it’s similar to the bookkeeper part, but it’s outsourced to experts, because if you don’t have the time or money to do it once, you don’t have the time or money to do it twice. Yeah, so outsource it right right away. The other thing is really, even if you’re not a diverse owned company, there’s no reason you cannot get involved in the supplier diversity world by partnering with other companies. So if you’re not a diverse let’s say you’re not a diverse own company, but you still are doing business with somebody large organization. I understand that is a core value of these large fortune 1000 companies. So even if you are not a woman owned and LGBT owned a disability on business yourself, if you say to your fortune 1000 customer, we’ve noticed that you it’s really important to you this supplier diversity and diversity in general, it’s so important to us as well, that we’ve made sure to include X percentage of diverse businesses in our supply chain. Now your supply chain could be five suppliers, I don’t know a bigger businesses, right. But it doesn’t matter. You’re saying your core values customer of mine are also our core values. There’s no reason why you can’t also start looking for diverse businesses to partner with and a JV whether they’re big or smaller than you as long as they’re legitimately part of the process. That is a fantastic way to get to grow the pie and to show your customers. Because what I often tell entrepreneurs also is that just like any relationship, you want both parties to benefit. I mean, imagine if your visa if your husband said, Hey, this thing is really important to me. And you were like, That’s cool, but I’m not going to do it. Like it doesn’t really lend to the relationship. Okay. So same thing with your with your clients, right? If they’re saying to you, this is important to me, and you’re like, that’s cool. But it’s not that important to me. I mean, we’re talking relationships, you’re going to be a transaction, or do you want to be in a relationship with your client? Yeah, it’s

Kara Goldin 21:25
so so true. What seems to be the number one certification program that people are kind of either reaching out to you to get help with? Or are the ones that pretty much everybody should know about besides we bank.

Heather Cox 21:43
So we bank is the biggest for women, women’s Enterprise National Council, you can look for them like this is a perfect example. This is like Miss spy by seeing them in target. Right? The back of them. Can you see that women owned right there? Yeah, that meets a woman Oh, right. You can find it on a lot of these images. Then the minority one is the National Minority supplier development council, they were actually the first of the private sector certifications, we get a lot of requests for that. One of my favorites is the disability owned business enterprise certification, which is called Disability in. The reason for that is because what they’ve done which is different than any of the other organizations out there is they actually bring in the DEI side, that HR that employment side of the house, with together with the supplier diversity, the procurement side of the house. Now most people can can can conceptualize and understand why having a diverse workforce is important to your company. That’s never a question people go why? Why would you offer the same type of people work? Everyone gets, why is the forum, they have a harder time conceptualizing why your supply chain should be diversified. So because disability in does both sides of the house and bring them together, they have an unbelievable opportunity to educate the people who come in for the DEI side, especially that neurodiversity and and neuro and that’s the hiring around like autism at work and different neuro diverse hiring. Tactics are becoming very prevalent in the workforce. I mean, think about it, I have a kid is on the spectrum. And some of the things that she will do for hours would make me go bonkers. Like I couldn’t do it. Or, you know, sometimes there’s people on the spectrum who can look at a video screen for 12 hours a day. I could not do that. Just like watching a video screen, look for security, whatever. It’s an amazing time, but they’re not going to interview like the two of us interview. But they might sit there. I mean, people will ask me like, what’s it like to have a kid and I said, you remember this weird kids when we were growing up, like, that’s my kid, she’s kind of a quirky, she’s a little awkward, whatever. She’s got a great heart. She’s a great kid. But she’s just she’s kind of a weird kid. But that’s what but so she’s not going to interview the way you and I would interview. So without having that knowledge of how to have those interview processes for people who don’t, who whose brain works a little differently than your than mine. It’s very important to accompany, and they understand that. And so when disability and brings those two sides together, they’re able to educate and this is why supplier diversity is just as important, right? You want to have a diverse employee base, a diverse customer base, and a diverse supply base, which is when you get that ultimate revenue.

Kara Goldin 24:17
So so interesting. So what impact do you hope that you’re having? I think, you know, when you have those tough days, as we all do, and you think back on kind of what you’re doing and and overall, all the people that you’re helping and and you know, you’re definitely a huge knowledge base, but also an executor of these programs for so many entrepreneurs but also as we talked about earlier, companies like what impact do you hope that you’re having?

Heather Cox 24:52
I like to say that we are making the business world more closely reflect reflect the real world. I love when we You go into these stores and I have five kids. And we are frequent shoppers of target as I entreat you remember when your kids were little, and that you should see as it’s like an Easter egg hunt of women own products or black own products, because there’s a lot of sites out there right now, mommy luck to women. And I love the fact that they get excited about it. Because I think that every time we’ve all heard the expression is when you buy from a woman or business, you’re not buying a CEO a second home, you’re buying a little girl dance lessons. And I think that when you do that, it really shows everything that can be done, you know, within our own demographics, right within our own communities. And I think by expanding the pie for diverse own businesses, we’re making our communities stronger, we’re making our children stronger, we’re making the economy as a whole stronger as we sit, one of the reasons that we were hit so hard, right is because so many businesses had to close, especially the small, diverse local businesses. And so it just makes it at the end of the day, I want to know that I’m that my dollars are making an impact. The arts law, our loudest voice is oftentimes how we spend our money. And so I want people to see when they say, What is she? Is she shopping or shopping intentionally? And I liked? I mean, the first first thing we talked about in all of our team meetings is how did you support diversity in your personal life? Because it’s really important. It’s one of our core values, that it’s not just a business, like, I’m not just buying my website from a diverse own business, which we’ve of course, always tried to do. But are we also is it also, like marinating into our Kiska into who we are right? into everything that we do? Because it’s just making the world a stronger place?

Kara Goldin 26:42
Absolutely. And is that what you share with other companies and corporations? I mean, do you ever find like they’re asking themselves that question, like, you know, is this really important for us to do? And obviously, you have the stats to back that up? But do you feel like, that’s still a question that people are asking? Or do you feel like people are sold on the fact that they need to do it, they just don’t know what to do?

Heather Cox 27:08
I think it depends on the company, there are some companies that have done a phenomenal job, and it resonates to the DNA of the entire company, right. But there’s other companies who still are just now, like trying to figure it out just now saying like, it, when they look at it as a cost center, you know, they don’t get it. They look at it as a cost center saying, like I said, to spend money on this, it, there’s a reason companies spend millions of dollars on this, because it makes them more money in the end, right? You have to look at the metrics and the ROI as a part of it. So yes, we definitely saw these conversations, I get a lot of questions about what’s the benefit to the corporation and must get tax benefits? That’s a big question we get. And so it’s really about and I am one of my favorite comments, compliments, whatever you want to call them I get from, especially the corporation’s themselves is, you’ve made me love my job again, when I get them excited about their job again, that to me is like, alright, that those are the things I think about when I’m like, I’m shutting the doors, forget it being entrepreneurs too hard. Not doing this anymore, right? Because we all have those days. And then they think about the people I’ve spoken to who like, like Jackie, who didn’t want to get certified and then sure enough, got a $5 million contract because of her certification. Right, which is amazing, but also because of that certification. And she’s a super I don’t know if we have time, but she’s a fantastic story about how she ended up with that $5 million contract. Would you say

Kara Goldin 28:33
that? No, I was just saying that that will be for another another interview but

Heather Cox 28:37
but another one right Oh,

Kara Goldin 28:39
so amazing. Well, so it was such a pleasure to talk to you had there in everybody will have everything in the show notes about certify my company and more about Heather and her experience too, and how to reach out to her but I just more than anything really, really thrilled that you came on to share a little bit more about this. And it’s very, very exciting and definitely top of mind for people in the beginning of the year trying to figure out what’s best for their companies and also for them on how to grow and scale. And I think this is such an important initiative. So thank you again, thanks, everyone for listening. See you soon, Heather Pinky Hill. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week. and 2023 and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening