How's this for a great track record? During her company's 14 years in business, Barbara Grogan, the president of $10-million Western Industrial Contractors, in Denver, has written off less than $100,000 worth of bad debt. Her secret: "Knowing who -- and who not -- to work for. The reality is that there are businesspeople who just don't share your worldview about when and how to pay their bills. One of my jobs as a manager is figuring out who those people are and walking away from their business."

To Grogan, the front-end work that a business owner puts into his or her accounts-receivable system is every bit as important as the tail end (actually collecting the bills). "We have to get whatever information we can about a company before accepting an assignment," she says. "Sometimes that information comes from the grapevine, from other businesses. Other times, we learn from our own experience -- meaning, the firm takes so long to pay one set of bills that it just doesn't make sense for us to take on another job."