"Most business associations hold a convention where members can get together, have some fun, and do some business. We don't," says NSB senior vice-president Ted Longeway, "so we decided to offer members something tangible."

The "tangible" offerings consist of insurance and a service that helps NSB members sell to the federal government.

Longeway is sensitive to persistent rumors that the NSB exists primarily topeddle insurance. Not so, he says, pointing out that the NSB doesn't go beyond telling its members that the insurance is available. The association collects only $40,000 to $50,000 annually (out of its $2-million income) from the administration of insurance, according to Longeway.

"No one in town does as good a job of monitoring federal contracts available to small business," says Marc Rosenberg, a congressional aide who once worked for the NSB. For a small monthly fee, member companies can subscribe to the NSB's BEAM -- Bidder Early Alert Message -- program. Herman Director, the NSB's chief economist, reads the Commerce Business Daily each day to learn what the government wants to buy and mails notices to the BEAM subscribers who sell that particular product. And Director tries to keep government agencies honest by protesting bid announcements that don't give small companies ample time to respond. A subscriber can send Director a supply of his or her company letterhead, and the NSB will automatically ask that the government's appropriate bid forms be sent to the subscriber. The service motivates a lot of companies to go after business they wouldn't have looked at before, says Director. "If they get the bid papers and don't do anything with them they start feeling guilty."