What do you do when your best customers start giving you collection problems? You're reluctant to threaten them, but you can't ignore them. Albany (N.Y.) Ladder Co. tries to jolly them into paying up -- for example, mailing out a reminder in the form of a giant $100 bill placed in a very thin envelope with no return address. Or including a real Bolivian 1,000-peso note with a dunning letter. Or sending a card with a drawing of a magician pulling a rabbit, and a check, out of a hat.

Credit manager and legal assistant Jim Ullery says the items are intended as "a gentle nudge" to good, frequent customers who are taking longer than usual to pay up. "Your objective is to get your [bill] on the top of the pile," says Ullery, who conducts seminars on credit and collection strategy. "We also want to find out if we've done something wrong. Did we send an improper invoice? With a little humor, they're more inclined to talk about it."

Has the humor helped? Ullery thinks so, pointing out that Albany Ladder's average aging has dropped from 95 to 54 days over the past five years.