Not long ago, most small companies gave scant consideration to selling stock to thepublic. The time and expense of complying with Securities and Exchange Commission filing requirements and the continuing paperwork for disclosure weretoo daunting. Moreover, most companies go public with the help of investment bankers, who prefer to underwrite offerings of $10 million or more.

But since 1989, there's been a simplified process for raising up to $1 million on the public market. Called the small corporate offering registration,or SCOR, it's designed for finance amateurs who own demonstrably solid companies.

The vehicle worked wonders for Real Goods Trading Corp., a mail-order company, in Ukiah, Calif. Real Goods financed its initial growth by cash flow, butby 1991 needed a chunk of money to expand its infrastructure. CEO John Schaeffer wrote a prospectus himself using a computer program that guided himthrough the highly formatted SCOR preparation. The outcome: Real Goods had to turn away $350,000 in the first offering and eventually did another round,raising a total of $4.6 million ? essentially on its own.

One note of caution: some CEOs report it took them more time than it did Schaeffer to complete the paperwork. And Drew Field, a San Francisco securitieslawyer who has written a book on the subject, says it helps to have a ready group of potential investors and a way to get in touch with them, as Real Goodsdid with its customer mailing list.