Snowden McFall, CEO of Brightwork Advertising, a Nashua, N.H., agency with about $1 million in billings, doesn't wait until a payment's late to find out what went wrong. She ferrets out potential snafus in advance by introducing herself to customers' bookkeepers as soon as she lands new accounts.

After McFall started the sit-down meetings, two years ago, she knew when she could realistically expect each client's check, and she could request a bigger up-front fee if need be. She's eliminated a lot of confusion and, as a result, cut late-payment time in half.

Another way she speeds up the process: on the day McFall gets an approved invoice, she faxes a copy to the customer's bookkeeper. "In the past, invoices have sat in secretaries' in-boxes for two weeks. When I fax the invoice, the bookkeeper still has to call Joe Smith and say, 'Hey, was this approved?' But it goes into the budget quicker.

"Accounting departments are surprised but glad someone wants to know what they do," says McFall. -- Susan Greco

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