CCS News

Courtney Consulting Solutions has been in the news lately. We have had great success in helping businesses learn how to do business with the Federal Government. Read some of the articles below that have have featured CCS or our Federal Government Consulting Team.

The federal government spends nearly 60 percent of the year’s budget during the fourth quarter July-Oct. 1. As a former scout pilot and senior staff officer in charge of budgets, logistics and contracts within the most deployable units in the U.S. Army, I was taught to never go into a situation blind—to know your enemy and the battlefield conditions. This same principle applies to business in terms of competition and market space.

I used to buy from hundreds of vendors and knew within a minute if they knew how to play the game or not. This inherent knowledge is rare in this industry, so if you are thinking about outsourcing, really ask the tough questions and make sure prospective partners have a background that brings together business, strategy, marketing and government in terms of actually “been there done that.” You have been warned. I call them GSA factories or monster-consulting firms that produce canned information and use the pass-around method.

So how do you make it easy for government buyers to do business with you?  Various contracting mechanisms like IDIQs, BPAs, Sole Source or GSA can help make the sale quicker (14 days on average versus 248 days on the open market).  By the time the fourth quarter comes along, a smart company will have done its homework and know who to target and why. Jumping in the federal market half way through without doing some important groundwork will result in frustration. You may get a few interested buyers but winging it is certainly not a long-term approach to success.

About 99 percent of the marketers I have encountered in businesses large and small do not know how to do effective market research in the government space or use appropriate terminology on crucial materials. Here are some tips on selling to the government:

  • Market research—Competition, who and how agencies are buying what you offer, regulatory environment, conditions, potential partners, coding, etc.
  • Keep your materials to a minimum—Brochures, capabilities statements, business cards, specification sheets, web page, etc.
  • Present a clean image—Not too “artsy” but simple. Going with a high tech, aviation-related, sustainable/green or a corporate look is always good.
  • Know who you are selling to—What are their motivations and why should they pay attention to you? How do you help them save time or meet a mandate or existing requirement? Are you talking to someone who is regulatory- or mission-driven? They each approach sales differently.
  • Have a contracting mechanism in place to close the deal faster.
  • Be proactive—Don’t just view current opportunities and be reactive. Be in the know before the offer hits the streets. Get out there and meet people.
  • Be confident—Don’t waste federal agencies’ time. Pitch the way you always do but make it quick and use terms they understand. Cost is usually not the pain point. Time, mission requirements and the ability to perform well are paramount.

Erica G. Courtney is president of San Mateo, Calif.-based Courtney Consulting Solutions, LLC. She is an independent government business development consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is an “insider” who knows how to cut through the red tape and help firms sell successfully to the government. As a consultant, she has earned clients millions of dollars in state and federal government contracts and contributed to their growth.

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“I often refer people in the small business community to the SBDC. They too often get asked the questions, “Where do I start?” and as an entrepreneur with a grand idea, they can assuredly guide you in the right direction. If a small business owner approaches me wanting to know about government, I refer them to the PTACs. It is unusual to bump into other veteran business owners but if I do, I let them know about the VBOC if they are struggling with basic business skills like accounting, capital, strategy etc. There is something special about veteran communities and a sense of trust you do not find many places. I appreciate the VBOC because anything that is in place to help those who served should be backed to the fullest. ”

After serving in the U.S. Army in various roles, I decided to obtain an Executive MBA at Florida International University to assist my transition to the civilian world. I enjoyed my experience and learned a great deal about how the commercial business marketplace operates. I worked corporate for over a year as their Senior Contracting Officer and set them up for success in all areas pertaining to government.

I had another venture centered around rainforest conservation through the sale of carbon credits while providing ancillary benefits like biodiversity conservation, economic development and empowerment. Our business plan was revolutionary and over a year’s span, we won national and international technical and socially responsible business plan competitions. Oprah Magazine and The White House Project chose our socially responsible business model as one that could make a difference and chose me as one of the 80 women nationwide that had the leadership background to change the world.

Most recently, I was appointed to the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women representing more than 677,625 woman in the greater Jacksonville area focused on educating, advocating and celebrating women. I learned how to pitch and I perfected the art of business plan writing. My MBA gave me the groundwork but the actually doing is where you ‘pay your tuition’.

That continued and I kept being brought back into the government marketplace world, and it was all coming together. I bought from thousands of vendors in the Army so I knew what worked and what didn’t. I could write business plans, I could quantify social/environmental attributes into a Social Return on Investment and I understood business aspects like marketing, accounting, strategy etc. The need was there. So I began researching what the market looked like for government business development consultants. I found a void and I knew how to fill it.

Other firms offer about 40% of what I could do to truly set up a client for success. They could register clients in certain systems and position them in the pre approved vendor space (GSA) but then it stops. A company can have a few tools in place but if they do not have the know how to use them, what a waste. I knew I had to open my own consulting firm. I named it LLC Propitious (I love the meaning) but it was hard to pronounce, so I had to use the industry standard—my name, Courtney Consulting Solutions, LLC.

Most ‘consultants’ out there have no experience with real buyers in the government, and we train them from start to finish on the right and wrong ways on approaching this marketplace. They will have a contract specific business plan in place which will give them direction and a sense of the market. They will know which agencies to target and the people. They will have simple marketing tools in place and know how to pitch, quickly, to a federal buyer. If the company offers products or services with environmental/social attributes, we will define and quantify them for a powerful statement. Most government agencies have a buy green first policy and our clients know how to maintain what they have so they do not fall out of compliance. Because of my varied background, all the elements came together quite nicely and my clients are set.

The whole process takes about 10 months so my services are not for companies with short-term mentalities. If they are experienced and looking to grow their business in a whole new direction, then they are my clients. With government spending at an all time high, not considering this marketplace is perhaps not the smartest thing to do.

The business began in September 2008, and the selling point was my experience. I contacted the Veterans Business Outreach Center for advice and they were so helpful. If they could not answer my questions they would find the answer out and they always follow up. Over time, they still contact me—just check in. My approach was different and the SBDC and VBOC understood and they enlightened me about the benefits of being a small, woman, and service disabled veteran business. If I needed help with local contacts, they provided them. If I needed assistance with planning or benefits, they advised me. It was great to have them there—a free service set up to ensure small business have a chance at success and they are the lifeblood of our economy. Over time, I have referred many companies that need my help but are not quite ready for government sales to the SBDC, PTAC or SBA. They always provide good, basic advice on small business issues as well as initial things a company can do for government sales. I have sent clients to seminars in the local Jacksonville and Miami area. Some being match making or training classes on government contracting.

In our first year, we grossed over $100,000 and revenue has increased every year. As the Owner I know that to be successful, clients come first. We don’t just ‘advise’ like most consultants, we actually do! We develop, draft, design and educate. Systems must be in place and we must always keep an eye on the market. And finally, we must always be learning and growing. It is no fun if the only one learning is the client!

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Driven by the need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, improve the economy and national security, create green jobs and reduce environmental impact, the federal government is taking the lead on green purchasing in a number of markets and sectors.

All agencies are directed to acquire recycled content, energy efficient, renewable, bio-based and environmentally preferable products and services towards achieving certain goals. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act, all federal managers are required to cut their fossil fuel use at new and renovated government facilities to 55 percent by the end of 2010 and 100 percent by 2030.

There are many “Buy Bio” and “Buy Green First” programs throughout the government, and the Department of Defense requires that green products and services must be considered as the first choice in all procurements. The government’s premier purchasing agency, the General Services Administration (GSA), has implemented Go Green Initiatives giving preference to products and services that meet green purchasing criteria. These policies are not limited to products. The environmental services and green or LEED construction management sector are also in high demand.

Green procurement does not intend to rewrite the book on buying, but merely adds an environmental dimension to the decision-making process. The standard purchasing criteria of price, quality, and availability remain paramount. The environmental impacts can be seen as part of the quality criterion.

First and foremost, you must understand the basics on how to do business with the government and then you can use these attributes as part of your marketing strategy. The bottom line when dealing with the government is to make it easier for them to do business with you over others. Here are some tips:

1) Question yourself. Is this something you really want to do? It will take a focused effort up front to unravel the red tape and figure out the game. Are you willing to make the investment of time and resources to penetrate the market? Once you’re in, your business can grow at warp speed — the challenge is just in getting there.

2) Getting started with the administrative steps. There are five places you should register right off the bat:

  1. Obtain a Dun & Bradstreet # (DUNS) at
  2. Register at the Central Contractor Registration (CCR), and figure out your business NAICS codes at
  3. Register at the Department of Veterans Affairs if applicable.
  4. Register with the Small Business Administration (SBA).
  5. Register at the Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA).

If you’re so inclined consider visiting the local SBA and Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). There are a number of good online resources for more guidance on getting over the bureaucratic hurdles.

3) Stay informed. Sign up to receive emails about federal opportunities at the Central Federal Business Opportunities site.

4) Implement an aggressive federal sales program. You’ll need to create or augment your business plan and simultaneously work towards obtaining a GSA Schedule contract or a long-term fixed price contract with the government.

For a number of reasons, getting a Scheduled contract is the only practical way a business can realistically compete. It reduces award time to 14 days from 248 days on average, minimizes the federal buyer’s risk and increases transparency, and a fixed-price contract is used most often throughout the government.

Although a Scheduled contract is really just something that gives you the “right” to sell to the government, they’re difficult to get and often buried under layers of government speak. But if you persevere, you’ll face significantly less competition, federal buyers will reach out to you rather than you going after business, and such contracts can be extremely profitable and a main source of revenue for your business.

5) Sell in your own backyard. There’s no need to head to Washington to sell to the government — unless that’s your backyard. You can find information about local government offices in any number of locations, including, federal telephone directories and the Federal Citizen Information Center, local blue pages, and installation guides on There are also tools to locate federally funded research and development centers, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, and a federal contracts database at

And then as with any type of business, get out in the market — go to trade shows and events, meet people and develop your network. The personal connection goes a long way, even when dealing with the government.

6) Get familiar with regulation. The place to start here is the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), online at

7) Market your company effectively. To develop marketing materials that speak to a federal buyer, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Create a simple brochure;
  • Augment your business card, since that is the most important thing you can leave behind after a meeting;
  • Add a “government” tab to your web site;
  • Understand how to use Sole Source and Blanket Purchase Agreements;
  • Develop a separate email address for government contacts to allow for quick response;
  • Have a one-page briefing sheet for your reference; and
  • Design and distribute an authorized contract list if on GSA.

When you’re marketing your business, emphasize key points like the warranties you may offer, your experience, your core competencies and capacity, the ROI or pay-back period of your products or services, and the ease of maintenance for your products and quality assurance certifications you’ve received.

You’ll also want to list any trademarks or patents you’ve earned, your GSA contract number, and if you have any socioeconomic factors that might meet procurement guidelines for small businesses, list your business size and classification as identified by the SBA or NAICS coding.

When discussing environmental or social benefits, list any certifications or awards you’ve received. Can you quantify the benefits? How much carbon are you keeping out of the atmosphere — compare yourself to a conventional product or service. Are you contributing to workforce development — are you a U.S. manufacturer or service provider? How much electricity can you keep from being consumed — are you sending anything back to the grid that serves the community due to increased demand? If you think along these lines, you can differentiate yourself from others.

If you are a suppler trying to tap into the federal marketplace, being green is a major differentiator and competitive advantage. Get your facts straight, develop a strategy, and market your products and services effectively. The new green in government can mean big green for your business.

Erica Courtney is the president of Courtney Consulting Solutions. She helps experienced companies do business with the government and has a varied background as a former government buyer, socially responsible business owner and national judge reviewing up and coming social entrepreneurs globally.

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