"Clarity makes all the difference," says cofounder John Orcutt of VKOS Imaging Services. Sick of late-paying customers, the collection staff at the $1 million medical equipment-service in Mineola, N.Y., started matching billings to customers' payable cycles. Orcutt called each customer and asked how long it typically took the company to process a bill and mail a check. Orcutt then made it clear that he expected to be paid within that time frame.

Now if customers don't pay when they say they will, the next week they'll hear from the bookkeeper at VKOS, who asks them when she should expect the check. If it doesn't arrive on that date, she asks for the check number and the date it was mailed. "We do pretty much what a collection agency does," says Orcutt, who admits that "some customers get annoyed." But, he says, none have stopped doing business with VKOS.