Deciding whether to get BBB accredited is an easy choice for some small business owners but others have questions. Is it worth the fee? What value does it really bring?
As you will see, getting accreditation from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has a number of strategic advantages. Among other things, it adds credibility to your brand. It builds trust with the public. It also helps your business attract new customers.
You have probably seen the familiar blue and white BBB logo or seal. Businesses display this seal for one reason: the public tends to place trust in a BBB accredited business. The seal is one way that consumers sort out credible, responsible businesses from irresponsible scams and fly-by-night outfits. However, businesses must earn the right to display the BBB seal, and that comes only after going through the accreditation process.
In this article we explain how accreditation works, the value it brings, and how to get BBB accreditation.
What Does the Better Business Bureau Do?
The BBB does many things, but one important role is to serve as a central information point between businesses and the public. Founded in 1912, the Bureau says its vision is for “an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other.”
The BBB is structured as a parent organization called the International Association of Better Business Bureaus. Underneath it are about 100 separately-incorporated local organizations in the US, Canada and Mexico. Its non-profit arm is the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust which promotes ethical business standards. Among other activities:
- The BBB maintains a directory of over 5 million business profiles where consumers can research a business.
- Consumers can file complaints, and the BBB gives companies a way to respond. The BBB offers mediation and arbitration to help resolve disputes.
- Consumers who verify their identity can leave reviews about vendors on the BBB website.
- The Better Business Bureau rates businesses from A+ to F, based on a 17-point scale.
- The BBB provides a designation called “accreditation” for select companies.
What Does BBB Accreditation Mean?
BBB business accreditation means your company has met the BBB’s requirements and specifically been granted accreditation status. This involves completing an application form, supplying the required information, undergoing a check on your business, and meeting the BBB’s standards. Accredited businesses must also pay a fee and renew annually.
After that, a BBB accredited business gets special marketing privileges and other advantages.
Why Get BBB Accreditation?
Accredited BBB businesses get several benefits, including:
Consumer Trust. Businesses get the right to associate their brand with the BBB brand, which is synonymous with trust. For example, accredited businesses can display the “BBB accredited business” logo on their front door, website and other places. Consumers look for this Seal.
Competitive Advantage. Accreditation is exclusive and differentiates your business from competitors. Around 400,000 businesses are accredited, according to the BBB website. When you consider that this number is less than 3% of all companies, it is easy to see how those that get accreditation stand out from peers.
Reputation Management. Accredited businesses get extra points toward their BBB rating. Ratings are separate from accreditation. But when a business puts itself through the accreditation process, the BBB is able to assess trustworthiness directly and may award a higher score.
Online Visibility. Your business gets its accreditation status noted in the BBB directory. A business can claim its online profile and add images, videos and other information. You may even get leads sent to your company.
Education and Information. The BBB offers webinars, newsletters and resources to help you run your business.
How to Get BBB Accredited
Getting accredited is not hard for a reputable company, but you must apply. There are five steps for how to get BBB accreditation:
1. Check Your Eligibility
The first step is to make sure your business is eligible. You have to have been in business at least 6 months. Among other requirements, you must have:
- All licenses and bonding required for your industry.
- No government ethics violations.
- Compliance with all governmental and contractual obligations.
There are two ways to apply for accreditation. You can go to this page to the start the process.
Another way to apply is to contact your local BBB office directly. As a small business owner, your dealings will be with your local BBB office anyway. Go to BBB.org and search the BBB organizations in the US, Canada and Mexico to find the correct chapter for your area. Then call, email or use the application form on the local chapter website.
3. Provide Information
Along with your application, provide the information requested. It’s not a lot of information, but it’s important to be accurate about your business name, address, number of employees, and other details.
4. Undergo a Business Review
The BBB chapter will conduct a public records check and review other sources of information to determine the trustworthiness of your business. The BBB may want to meet with you in person or conduct a telephone interview.
Your application has to be reviewed by the local BBB board of directors and that could take several weeks. Board members are people from the business community who only meet periodically. Count on the process taking at least 3 weeks.
5. Pay the Fee Upon Approval
If your application is approved, you must agree to the BBB’s terms. You must pay the fee (also called Accreditation Dues). Remember, when you pay the fee you are not paying for a rating. You are paying for the BBB’s overhead expenses to process applications and maintain operations in the Better Business Bureau organizations. (As an entrepreneur, you know that nothing operates for free. The BBB’s staff and building rent must get paid, etc.)
Once your application is approved, you will receive a thick welcome packet in the mail. The packet includes a Membership Certificate, marketing materials and other information. You also receive an email with login details for your online profile.
How Much Is the BBB Accreditation Fee?
For most small businesses, the accreditation fee will be in the hundreds of dollars. However, the fees depend on two factors: (1) your number of employees, and (2) your local BBB office’s fee schedule.
Each local BBB office has its own fee schedule, and most seem to fall within a 10% range of other chapters. A few local chapters put their fees online. For instance, the St. Louis office publishes the following fees:
|Number of Employees||Accreditation Annual Fees|
|1 - 3||$510|
|4 - 7||$585|
|8 - 10||$660|
|11 - 49||$850|
|50 - 99||$1035|
|100 - 200||$1225|
Check with your local chapter for the actual fees you would be charged. Payment plans are available to let you spread out the cost monthly or quarterly.
The same fee is charged annually for renewal. BBB fees are a business expense that qualifies as a small business tax deduction.
Little known fact: some local business bureaus occasionally offer discounts. For example, at the time of this writing, the South East Florida BBB is offering a limited-time discount along with 90 days of free online advertising.
What Types of Businesses is BBB Accreditation Best For?
Any business that has dealings with the public is a good candidate.
Organizations of any size are eligible. Small businesses tend to predominate. However, you also see local branches of large companies, such as bank branches.
Businesses can be in any industry. The only limitations are industries that (1) are illegal such as online casinos, or (2) the BBB specifically has designated as inherently problematic, such as payday lenders.
According to the West Florida BBB, the top inquiries from the public are about roofing contractors, A/C contractors, insurance companies, home builders, used car dealers, general contractors, plumbers, pool companies and collection agencies. This list will vary regionally, but it gives an idea of the types of businesses where BBB accreditation matters to consumers. Such businesses may especially benefit from accreditation.
Can Online Businesses Get BBB Accredited?
Yes. Online businesses can apply for and obtain accreditation. You might wonder why bother, but actually the reason is simple. Online trust is more important than ever. The BBB quotes a study by Nielsen that found six out of 10 consumers use the BBB before buying online.
How Do I Find Out if a Business is BBB Accredited?
There are two ways. First, look for a dynamic BBB Accredited Business Seal on the company’s website. The dynamic Seal is an interactive software version of the BBB logo enabling consumers to check out a business in a click.
Second, you can also go to the BBB.org website, and search for the business. The business profile will say whether the business has accreditation. If you can’t find the business, check to make sure you spelled the name right. If there’s no profile there is no accreditation.
Why is a Business Not BBB Accredited?
There could be a number of reasons a business does not have accreditation — and those reasons are not necessarily negative:
- The business simply may have decided not to apply or chosen not to renew.
- The company may have relocated and temporarily has no accreditation. That was our case here at Small Business Trends Media after we relocated the business to another state.
- A business may not be accredited due to being in an industry the BBB considers a scam or problematic.
- Accreditation also can be revoked. MyPillow famously had its status revoked and its rating downgraded, in part due to violations of the BBB’s advertising code.
What Are the BBB Standards of Trust?
The Bureau monitors accredited entities for ongoing adherence to eight principles called the standards of marketplace trust: build trust, advertise honestly, tell the truth, be transparent, honor promises, be responsive, guard privacy and embody integrity.
And these standards just happen to be good principles to run your business by.
Should I Get My Business Accredited?
You might wonder: is the Better Business Bureau worth it? The BBB is not without controversy. Over a decade ago I wrote about it, and was surprised by the response. Also, a few years back CNN wrote a series of negative articles, after which the organization said it made changes.
Yet, accreditation has value and I recommend it, especially for local small businesses that serve consumers. I have no financial interest in whether you get accreditation — or not. But here’s why it is important: a large proportion of the public places trust in the BBB. If potential customers think BBB accreditation has value, then it is worthwhile. Because in the end, the customer is what matters.
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