F.O.C.U.S on the Small Business Fundamentals – Part 2

In part one, we introduced the concept of F.O.C.U.S. In that first installment, I noted that in all of the advice I have provided to small businesses in my many years leading HP’s Supplier Diversity & Small Business programs, one key theme is consistent for ALL small businesses. The key theme is: before attempting to sell goods or services to large corporations, you must prioritize a deep, comprehensive F.O.C.U.S. on the fundamentals.

FOCUS II Post.jpgIn part one, we provided a brief summary of each of the elements:

Organizational Structure
Classifications & Certifications
Unique Selling Proposition
Strategic Plan


In this second installment of F.O.C.U.S. we’ll concentrate on what I believe to be one of the areas least leveraged for small business success: Classifications & Certifications.

Classifications are an important way for small businesses to quickly identify the types of goods and/or services that they provide. All U.S. Federal agencies use North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes to segment and categorize their supply base and procurement needs. Any small business looking to do business with the federal government (or with any other corporation or business that contracts with the federal government) must be able to precisely identify their service/product offering by NAICS codes. I recommend that small businesses:


  • Research and pinpoint the codes that relate to their business
  • Check the NAICS of their competitors (often listed on their web pages) to determine how best to categorize their own offering; and
  • List their NAICS codes on the back of their business cards. 


Certifications refer to external verifications that assure a corporate buyer that a small business has met a certain qualification or status. Corporations value certifications because they help them identify which portion of their supply-chain spend meets important customer-driven or regulatory requirements. Some leading national certifying bodies include:

The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), which certifies business that are at least 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by an ethnic minority owner or owners.

The Woman’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which certifies business that are at least 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by a woman owner or owners.

The US Business Leadership Network (USBLN), which offers certification to businesses that are owned by an individual(s) with a disability, including service- disabled veterans.


Because there is such a long list of potential certifiers and a cost associated with most certifications, I recommend that small businesses employ a S.M.A.R.T. approach to certifications:

Strategy: Spend time formulating a certification approach that clearly addresses the needs of your current or potential customers.

Maintenance: Many certifications require maintenance, which involves an investment of resources and funds.  Determine the right metrics and track the value you are getting from each certification so that you can determine the ROI for maintaining it.

Access: Choose high quality certifications that bring access to corporate decision makers through mentoring relationships, meet-the-buyer events, corporate buyer directories, etc.

Realistic: Be realistic! Certifications are not a guarantee that a customer will award you a contract; but are often a minimum ante or requirement, particularly for government and often times large enterprise customers. It’s still important to do the work of selling after you have been awarded the certifications

Track value: As I mentioned above, many certifications require maintenance, which involves an investment of resource and funds.  Maintain those that have high ROI; be willing to let go of those which have not proven value in your sales cycle.


Keep these tips in mind and leverage the value of classifications and certifications to help grow and expand your small business.

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