Bob Cashman, chief executive officer of Anaheim, Calif.-based Pacific Envelope Co., has a strategy that the claims will just about clear up most receivables problems. The first step is not to complain about late payment to the person who bought your product or service. Instead, go directly to the source of the potential problem -- the accounts payable department, or, if that doesn't exist, the company's bookkeeper. Second, offer a discount for quick payment.

Cashman's company manufactures and prints envelopes for around 1,200 customers. When an account is 8 to 10 days past due, office manager Jean Smith calls the customer's accounts-payable department to make sure that both the invoice and the delivery receipt are in hand. Assuming the answers are yes, Smith then asks when she can expect payment. If the delivery receipt hasn't been sent down from the shipping department, as often happens, Smith sends a duplicate, calls a week later, and again tries to pin down a payment date. The company offers a 2% discount for payment within 10 days.

According to Cashman, it works. "We have totally disarmed them. They have agreed that they have our merchandise, and they have obligated themselves to pay on a certain date. It eliminates 90% of the problem."