Organizational Structure of the Department of Defense (March 2018)
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Spend enough time at matchmaking events, industry days, networking events and conferences in the #GovCon world, and one could amass quite a collection of Capabilities Statements. If one were into collecting them. Which I am:
The capabilities (or capability) statement is your business’s resume; as such, it needs to combine the technical skillset you’re offering with an attractive format that would cause a neutral third party to pick it up and glance at it. There are plenty of resources (APTAC, HHS, SAP&DC) who will tell you what to put in it. ISI Federal lays it out in a graphical format. FDIC has a whole slide deck. I’d like to take you through a slightly different analysis:
“Who [or what] is it for?”
Is your one-pager ready for prime time? Make sure you’re not guilty of any egregious “Don’ts“. Keep your customer paramount in your mind when you’re writing and designing: will she want to pick it up? Read it? share it? Do you even know who your customer is? If not, do your homework first.
And if you would like some help, contact your local PTAC. We’ve got our red pens at the ready.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) updated its Table of Small Business Size Standards adopting the Office of Management and Budget’s 2017 revision of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) effective October 1, 2017. The revised NAICS Codes and their corresponding size standards will be available in SAM for use in entity registrations starting October 7, 2017. The updated table of size standards is available now on SBA’s website at www.sba.gov/size.
For more information please contact your Virginia PTAC counselors.
I am lucky to attend many a procurement conference. The piles of business cards, and the expansive collection of branded grocery shopping bags in my car will attest to that.
I go to learn the content, sometimes to speak, and to meet people (and depending on the content of the conference, not necessarily in that order). In fact, defining the business goals for attending – including sponsoring or exhibiting – is essential if you want to avoid wasting your time and money at events that aren’t right for your business. The process goes something like this:
there’s nothing more frustrating than going to an event marketed as “Special event for government contractors” and there are 2 government contracting businesses in the room. Look at past events, peruse the sponsor information, if published. Talk to the organizers. Ask your industry contacts if they think this is a good event.
Sometimes you have to see and be seen. If a preeminent industry event is happening and all your competitors are showing up and your absence would loudly proclaim that you’re not paying attention — then you better put on that suit and register before it’s all sold out. If a customer tells you that they’re putting on an event and expending effort to bring you a program, get their folks to agree to speak, those should all be good signs that your absence won’t go unnoticed.
Some of the events may not be all about you making a sale. Sometimes, you may want to learn about trends in the industry or resources that you can use in your business. Looking for a legal pro? An event featuring attorney speakers on a particular subject matter may be a quick way to get a question answered – and perhaps a lead on a good attorney you can retain. Same thing goes for any resource you need: the people putting on events, appearing as subject matter experts tend to be well connected, and may be great resources for your business.
You’re there to learn – so engage, participate, ask questions, take the opportunity to have a word with a speaker (or at least get their card). You can also make a good impression from the audience if you post / tweet about the event in progress, linking to the speakers’ and organizers’ Twitter handles can get you a few “likes” and “retweets” – building your name recognition and notoriety even as you’re in the audience.
If your customers and partners are walking around and you want to get noticed, having an exhibit table is a quick way for them to find you. If you have something that catches their eye and gets them to your table – all the better. At many conferences, sponsors get advanced marketing, such as social media, print, and website recognition. Bigger events even pre-print giveaways with all the sponsor logos. Word of caution: if you do decide to exhibit or sponsor an event – make sure you’re ready. Do you have something to give away? (even a capabilities statement and some candy). Do you have a professional-looking presence? Logo, tablecloth, banner…. You don’t want to be over- or under- dressed for the occasion. If you’ve gone to an event before, you know what all the other exhibitors will have. You don’t want to look like you didn’t prepare. If you’re a first-time attendee to a particular conference, it’s perfectly fine to just attend and make a decision if it’s worth exhibiting the following year.
What have you done at events you attended that made a difference in your business?
A fundamental building block of your company’s government contracting existence. The NAICS codes define you, quite literally, by associating your offerings with a certain segment of the universe of products and services sold in North America. Then why are they so difficult to get right?
First, let’s define the problem.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, NAICS, or “North American Industrial Classification System”, is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. NAICS was developed under the auspices of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and adopted in 1997 to replace the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. It was developed jointly by the U.S. Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC), Statistics Canada, and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia to allow for a high level of comparability in business statistics among the North American countries.
As of February 2016, there are 1045 active NAICS codes. 536 of them refer to services (from banking to industrial launderers to fur-bearing animal production), 509 refer to wholesalers and manufacturers (from music stores to dental labs to fasteners/buttons/needles).
And there must be one out there that perfectly describes you, and if you find it, everything is smooth sailing…
Not so fast.
Federal contractors need to look at NAICS Codes, much like they need to look at everything else they’re doing in pursuit of business: from their customer’s viewpoint.
So here are some best practices for figuring out what your NAICS codes should be.
Step I: Easy Stuff
Step II: Secret Squirrel Methodology [The logic behind seemingly illogical coding]
When you searched procurement history, you probably came across NAICS Codes that did not make sense. I have found “frozen foods” purchases coded as IT services. I recently even ran across a Piano purchase that was coded as an armored vehicle (Contract # VA24416F6918 if you want to see for yourself). There are 2 things you need to think about: why does that happen, and what do you need to do about it.
First, Why, oh why, do NAICS codes used by my customers make no sense to me?
Let’s say there’s a $20 million dollar business that has been doing great work and when the contract comes up for recompete, the government customer wants the company to be included in the competition – have a chance to win the work. Would the government ever put that procurement, if it’s a small business set-aside, under a NAICS code where the small business threshold is $6M? No, because that would preclude them from competing altogether.
So what do you do? Stay calm and do research. When you are searching for opportunities and past awards, use a variety of search cirteria – keywords, agencies, vendors, not just NAICS, because if that’s the only criteria – it will be both too broad, and at the same time, too limiting as you are likely to miss good opportunities.
Virginia PTAC (and our nationwide colleagues) are happy to welcome you to government contracting. We will do our best to help you succeed at selling to state, local, and federal agencies.
Some businesses, however, aren’t ready for government contracting, and your meeting with a PTAC counselor, or your attendance at a class can be frustrating, overwhelming, and (let’s be honest), disappointing.
So let’s get this secret out of the bag: PTAC is not intended to help you start a business. That’s outside our mission, that’s something our grant funder (Department of Defense) specifically frowns upon, and that’s the kind of assistance we recommend you seek from our resource partners, such as the Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, and SCORE.
In fact, before you meet with a PTAC counselor or attend even our introductory “Basic Training” class, we recommend that your company obtains:
PTAC Counselors won’t usually ask to look at your documentation, unless they’re helping you submit a certification that requires above-mentioned paperwork. However, in order to start registering as a vendor to any government entity, businesses must meet certain basic requirements. If you are sure that you are going to pursue government work, get these out of the way. And as far as the Business Plan – again, while we don’t require written proof that you created one for your business, we do want to ascertain that you are serious, that you have considered the pros and cons and financials and business structure and have a plan. We will absolutely help you refine it, give you a reality check, and assist with a proof of concept; but if you’re not serious about your business, there really isn’t much we can do to overcome that.
This is a bit more of a chicken-and-egg category. Yes, we can help you figure out all of these codes and numbers and what you should select. However, the best advice at the outset is that you try to identify the codes that apply to your business. See if you can register in SAM. If you get those steps out of the way without a snag, then your meeting with your counselor can cover more in-depth, “next step” material. And if you do have questions or run into technical difficulties, that’s absolutely an area where a counselor’s perspective will be invaluable. (Hint: make sure the physical address for your Virginia SCC registration, Tax ID, and SAM is *identical* down to the letter and abbreviation).
You and your counselor should review your registrations during your session, and we will have some insight into additional / related / adjacent codes to consider. You’ll hear tips and tricks in classes. We’ll explain the purpose and utilization of all of these by your target customers. And we’ll give you next steps, like competitive and customer analysis, DSBS profile creation (and much more!) — built on the foundation of the basics you have completed. There’s a lot more to government contracting, so the sooner we get these “pre-requisites” out of the way, the sooner we can do some real work.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – from contracting officers, OSDBUs, SBLOs, your well-meaning networking acquaintances and teaming partners and Chamber of Commerce #govcon speakers…And you have no idea what they are talking about.
What homework? How much do I have to do? where do I start? What’s the point? Are you just letting me down easy to wiggle out of a conversation? (Well, I can’t answer that last one – but I can certainly help guide you in the homework-doing department).
What the industry experts mean by ‘homework’ is to be prepared for a conversation with a potential customer – whether it’s a government agency, a large prime, or a similarly small business who you want as a partner. Prepared to not just to recite to them how great you are, but to speak to your value proposition. What can you do for them?
Well, what can you do for them?
If you are even thinking about responding with something along the lines of “well, I can sell them my…” – STOP.
Federal agencies, and the food chain of contractors that you want to be a part of aren’t just buying products and services, no matter how shiny and cool. They aren’t “giving out” contracts, there are no magic words that would enable a government agency to suddenly bypass decades of processes and volumes of rules just to do you a favor.
So how do you figure out what your customer wants to hear?
How do you even know where to start, who would be a good customer for you? You may know from experience, which puts you a step ahead. But if it’s just a hunch – test that hypothesis through solid research before venturing out – you’ll save a lot of frustration and parking dollars.
Elevator Pitch, Business Card, Capabilities Statement, and a website. Know them, have them, invest in them. You want to present yourself as an established business that isn’t risky in any way. You want to appear polished and professional, memorable and knowledgeable. If you are even thinking about sending an email to a government customer from a yahoo or gmail account, don’t do it. Get a company website with an email @your own domain. There are tools out there that make it really easy to put together a presentable website even for non-IT folks, for not a lot of money. Wix, SquareSpace are so easy, even I can do it.
They’ll be much more likely to invest time and answer questions from someone they see potential in. They’ll be much more likely to send a complete newbie to their local PTAC office for the basic skills.
Forget asking your customer “what do you do.” If you haven’t figured it out, you’re wasting your time and theirs. Now, if you are meeting a company you haven’t heard of at a networking event, that’s a fine question. At a planned appointment, when you’ve had a chance to pull up their website at the least, it’s a taboo question. If you’ve done the reading, you know what they do, you know what they buy, you know who they buy it from and how much they spend annually. The questions you ask should showcase your knowledge of their environment and challenges, a subtle indication that you know exactly how to fix things – and a desire to understand their ideal state.
There are a number of opportunities to meet your customers – yes, at their office. Also at industry days, conferences, in LinkedIn groups, in local AFCEA, NCMA chapters, industry-specific organizations, and even on social media. Where are they going to learn? Where are they going to share information? Don’t forget that your customers are people too – and can be found at dog parks and PTA meetings and home improvement stores. I’m not advocating stalking, but there’s a lot you can learn in a casual, no pressure, non-sales interaction that can enlighten your business development / teaming / proposal strategy.
This is plenty of homework to get started. If you need help, we’re here to help you work on your pitch, review your capabilities statement, assist with market research.
 Yes, there are instances where companies get work faster than the usual contracting timeline. That is the stuff of legends in our field. Usually, such miracles are the result of a lot of hard groundwork and persistence.
Download: Common Federal Procurement Acronyms