From the May 2008 issue of Startups

Must Do:
1. Determine your business' size, as defined by the SBA. Go to sba.gov and click on "FAQs" (left navigation bar, fifth item). Then click on "Size Standards" (FAQ No. 18) link. This takes you to the SBA "Size Standards" page, which will help you understand the various small-business classifications.

2. Register your business at the Central Contractor Registration website. Registration is required here before you can be paid. To register, you need two things: your North American Industrial Classification System, or NAICS, code and your Dun & Bradstreet, or DUNS, number. To get your NAICS code, select the industry classification that best describes your business at census.gov/epcd/www/naics.html. Each NAICS code will have an SBA-defined size standard that determines small-business classifications for government contracting purposes. Many companies select a NAICS code that allows them to have small-business status.

Register at the D&B website, dnb.com, if you haven't already. Your DUNS number will also be your CCR number. While you're on the website, check your D&B rating and make sure it's good. If it's not, contact D&B through its website and provide enough data to improve your rating. Contracting officers check a company's D&B rating to make certain it's financially stable.

Once you register with CCR, you'll be officially recognized in Uncle Sam's major contractor database.

3. Go to the Federal Business Opportunities website and click on the "Vendor" link under the "User Guides" heading to download the "FBO Vendors Guide." After you read the guide, register with FBO to receive federal bid notifications. There's no fee for this service. To receive state and local government bid notifications, I recommend you also subscribe to Onvia, a contract notification service.

Should Consider:
1. How big is your government niche? You can get sales data for services or products similar to yours at the Federal Procurement Data System.

2. Who are the major players in your government niche, and how crowded is it? This information is available at the General Services Administration Schedules e-Library but only for companies selling via the GSA Schedule. Most major vendors have a GSA Schedule. You'll need to know your GSA classification.

3. Is your accounting department familiar with the GSA Industrial Funding Fee and other government accounting and billing nuances? If not, locate the nearest Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and ask for guidance. Visit governmentexpress.com and click on the "Resources" link. The fourth item on the list is the PTAC in Excel format. The PTAC program operates more than 90 centers nationwide and offers low-cost and no-cost courses in doing business with the government.

4. Is your legal department familiar with government contracts? This is another question for the PTAC.

5. Does your bid desk know how to respond to a federal Request for Proposal, or RFP? Yet another question you can ask the PTAC.

6. Do you know which agencies you will target initially? If yes, have you met with the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, or OSDBU? The small-business officers in federal agencies meet with vendors (who have appointments) for one-on-one sessions. Be sure you select the OSDBU office with an agency that needs what you sell. --Mark Amtower

Mark Amtower is the author/producer of The Ultimate Government Sales Jumpstart Program, a CD and workbook program for companies that want to sell to the government.