Sometimes it pays to keep your problems to yourself. That's what Jim Ansara decided when he suddenly discovered in late 1985 that his company, Shawmut Design & Construction, was $550,000 in the hole due to poor financial controls. While he worked to solve the problems, he kept vendors and subcontractors in the dark by paying bills in 30 to 35 days, much faster than the industry average.

The trick, of course, was coming up with the cash. To do that, he took only high-margin jobs for customers he knew would pay promptly. When possible, he completed work ahead of schedule and billed some jobs twice a month. He also convinced a few customers to pay for work up front, in exchange for a discount.

The plan worked so well that suppliers never suspected the company was in trouble. As a result, Ansara had the time he needed to get the company back in the black.