Potential exporters sometimes complain that researching foreign markets and dealing with export complexities are too tough to bother with. To help, the Small Business Foundation of America operates the Export Opportunity Hotline (800-243-7232), which is free except for some customized services. Operators can answer questions on foreign-market research, export financing, licensing and insurance, documentation, and finding hands-on help.

They might send you, for instance, to the Rhode Island Export Assistance Center (EAC), operated by Bryant College, in Smithfield, R.I. The EAC helped Premier Thread, based in Bristol, R.I., identify potential customers in Central and South America, find contacts in Spain and Portugal, and fill small initial orders from Italy and Korea. The center also helped Premier create a marketing brochure and write a business plan for exporting. -- Tom Richman