For small business owners, finding growth opportunities can be a challenge. Going through the process of certifying your business can open a lot of doors for networking, resources, and contracts that you may not otherwise be able to access.

Official certifying bodies exist for businesses owned by women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, economically-disadvantaged entrepreneurs, and more. In this installment of CO—’s Start. Run. Grow series, Editor-in-Chief Jeanette Mulvey and Senior Features Editor Barbara Thau sat down with three business owners and experts to discuss these special business certifications and the benefits of obtaining them as an eligible small business.

[Read more: A Guide to Business Certifications for Small Business Owners]

Start: Certifying a business is integral to proving you can fulfill the contract

According to Alexis McSween, Founder and CEO of woman and minority-owned construction and development company Bottom Line Construction, certifying your business proves to the government and other organizations that you have the expertise — including the right licenses and insurance — to complete a job properly and fulfill a contract.

“Being certified… is just giving you a seat at the table,” McSween said.

To start the certification process as a small business, McSween recommends filling out applications on your own and with your team, rather than hiring someone to do it for you, and taking advantage of software and project management tools that can help you stay organized.

For the sake of efficiency, she also advised completing multiple applications around the same time, as certification applications generally have similar questions and form requirements, such as your company’s financials, licenses, and insurance. McSween noted that doing so will also make recertifications easier later on, which generally happens every two to five years. However, businesses should be aware that maintaining your certification typically requires your business to uphold certain standards that non-certified businesses aren’t subject to.

[Read more: Tax Incentives for Minority-Owned Businesses: What to Know]

Run: Businesses can gain access to more than just jobs through certification

Teresa Ging, Founder and CEO of cupcake and baked goods business Sugar Bliss, dealt with many people saying “no” in her entrepreneurial journey. However, she didn’t accept that as an answer: With a background as a financial analyst, she created a successful business plan that landed her a bank loan to launch Sugar Bliss, and helped her build a profit-minded business model.

Ging did not obtain her certifications until she had been in business for 10 years. Looking back, she sees the benefits they could have had on Sugar Bliss by getting certified right from the start.

“Somehow, I thought certification was just doing government contracts,” Ging said. “I didn't realize it was [also] doing [contracts] with corporations.”

Ultimately, certification by organizations such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) connected Ging to major corporations from American Airlines to Walgreens, as well as government agencies. Certification also gave her entry to industry events spanning the travel and hospitality to retail sectors.

One event led to Sugar Bliss’ expansion into packaged goods this year, with the launch of four cookie flavors in 40 Walgreens stores.

“When you attend these events, you can meet supplier diversity managers that will put you in touch with retail buyers so you can get your products in front of them,” she said.

[Read more: 10 Women-Owned Business Directories for Your Business to Join]

Grow: Using a business coach can help you obtain certification and discover your identity as a business owner

Certifications can serve as a facet of a business’s public identity, but it’s also important for business owners to discover what their internal entrepreneurial identity is. That’s why Fabian Niedballa, Co-Founder and COO of digital coaching platform Sharpist, started his business: to help other business owners discover their identities and guide them through the often confusing process of becoming successful entrepreneurs.

By working with a business coach, said Niedballa, entrepreneurs gain access to a wealth of knowledge and guidance to help them discover the best options for their organization — including guidance on certifications.

“Having a coach can provide valuable guidance and support,” he told CO—. “[A coach helps] from developing skills and strategies… [to] holding you accountable as an entrepreneur to fulfill the goals that you set out to [achieve] and make sure you stay on track. It can be particularly helpful for entrepreneurs that struggle with self-motivation or discipline.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.