Want better service from your suppliers? Jim Ansara did back when he started Shawmut Design &Construction, in Boston, in the early 1980s. His goal was to differentiate himself from bigger competitors that were pursuing the same subcontractors andvendors. So he figured that the best way to stand out would be to pay his bills earlier than his competitors.

Instead of paying suppliers when he got paid by the customer, as most contractors do, Ansara promised to pay within 30 days. Shawmut sometimes had totake out bank loans to make good on its commitment, but as far as Ansara is concerned, the benefits of doing business this way far outweighed the costs.

"It helps position us in the minds of the people we work with. Besides being fair to suppliers, it's been a very good business decision," he says. The policyhad an added benefit, too: subcontractors gave Shawmut more attractive pricing because they knew they'll be paid quickly.

Ansara's advice is echoed by Brian Shniderson, of Premiere Merchandising, in Inglewood, Calif. "We never put carrying the business on our suppliers," he says of the bootstrapping days at his promotional goods andservices business. "We put it on our clients. We'd tell them we're working our butts off, and we need to be paid within 10 days. We made sure the suppliersgot paid no matter what. That way, there's nothing they wouldn't do for us."