For start-ups, it's a classic catch-22 situation. You can't get a loan without a track record, and you can't get a track record without a loan. Richard Aman, CEO of ProKnit Corp., in Scottsdale, Ariz., found a way out. He built his credit record before building his business.

Although ProKnit wasn't incorporated until 1984, Aman began filling out personal-loan applications in 1980. His first loan was for $4,000 or $5,000, unsecured and payable in 90 days. "I said to my banker, 'When I come back and ask for a big loan to start my business, I expect you to be there for me,' and he was," Aman says. Over the next five years Aman paid off more than 10 loans, escalating the stakes to a $100,000 one-year unsecured note, needed to fill his first big order when he started ProKnit. The apparel-manufacturing business has grown from $331,000 in sales in 1985 to more than $14 million in 1988.