A recent survey by National Small Business United, based in Washington, D.C., revealed that 37% of companies interested in foreign trade said they lacked the know-how to get started. Offering solutions is a crop of so-called global-assistance firms sprouting up nearly as fast as the overseas opportunities they purport to exploit.

LOI, in Washington, D.C., sells a series of six Market Access Guides -- pocket-sized business/travel references covering far-flung regions, complete with city maps, trade and investment opportunities, and sociopolitical and -economic data -- for about $21 each. Founder Tom Timberman is a 25-year U.S. Foreign Service veteran.

Teleologic, a Sandy, Utah, company founded in 1990 by Bryan Ritchie, markets international-business software, called Marco Polo, for PCs. The software, at $150 to $200 a country or $495 for regional (e.g., Europe, Pacific Rim) sets, includes up-to-date country-specific data on travel, economics, culture, regulations, and government.

Global Business Access, also in D.C., founded in 1991 by former Foreign Service officers Charles Schmitz and Ashley Hewitt and consultant Chris Chapin, has a staff of 100 retired ambassadors and foreign-service experts for hire by the hour or for daily rates. Its consultants will help clients wade through overseas logistics and international red tape or help evaluate overseas markets for a given product or service.

Prosper Business Development, a market-information start-up in Columbus, Ohio, offers, for $2.95 a call, an Export Fax Line that daily updates qualified export opportunities culled from the Commerce Department's country desks all over the world, according to Gary Drenik, Prosper's cofounder and president.

-- Alessandra Bianchi