Not only do many small businesses underestimate the benefits of exporting to foreign markets, most are not even aware of the many forms of assistance available to them, concludes Nile J. Webb, a partner and small-business coordinator for the international accounting firm of Deloittee Haskins & Sells.

Webb recently has written a booklet to familiarize small businesses with the world of exporting. In "Export: Small and Growing Businesses," he cites higher growth rates for certain products in some foreign markets, encouragement of imports by some foreign governments as a means of developing their economies, and the ability of small businesses to pursue orders that would offer inadequate revenues to large, multinational corporations, among others.

He also explains the programs that U.S. government agencies -- including the Commerce Department, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank and the Agency for International Development -- administer to help small businesses entering the export field.

"There are tax advantages for exporters, too," says Webb. "The most important is the ability to set up a 'domestic international sales corporation' [DISC] with which an exporter can defer federal income tax on up to 50 percent of overseas sales income." The DISC, he explains, is essentially "a domestic corporation that sells or leases U.S. goods to customers of foreign countries."

Webb's report provides a format for analyzing opportunities in the export sector, based on basic marketing data generally available from government agencies and international banks.

For a free copy of Webb's booklet, write Deloitte Haskins & Sells, 1101 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.

In a related development, the Washington district office of the Small Business Administration is conducting a free direct counseling service for small-business persons who want to sell their products and services overseas. The program focuses on export counseling, training and information.