When James Stroop was president of a $12 million construction company, he took a hard line when it came to getting paid. Hewould stop work on any job for which payments were 20 days overdue.

The company would bill for projects monthly, sending out invoices on the 25th of the month. Payment was due on the 5th or10th day of the following month. By the 12th day, Stroop would get a list of customers whose payments hadn't been received,and on days 15 through 18, he and his account managers would begin hitting the phones, warning delinquent customers thatprojects would have to be shut down if payment wasn't received promptly. That usually did the trick. But if it didn't, construction would grind to a halt on day 25, to be resumed only after a cashier's check had been deposited in the company's coffers.

In 15 years, the company wrote off less than $5,000 of bad debt. Companies have lots of leverage, notes Stroop. All they have to do is be willing to use it.