You're in business to make real money for you, your family and your employees. At least I hope you are. If your goal isn't to pile up personal wealth, you will probably fail. If you care about doing something good, give a portion of your profits to charity--just be sure to make profits first.

Over the last two years, most small-business owners have exhausted both their personal net worth and that of their businesses. They've borrowed where they can on household equity, emptied their 401(k)s and family savings accounts, have drastically reduced their compensation, and some are even facing foreclosure. Bank lending and other commercial financing sources have shriveled. In fact, for most small businesses, every day is hand-to-hand combat for cash flow. Sometimes if your situation is dire, you may have to sacrifice profits for cash.

One of the last sources of cash for your business is your vendors. One major distributor recently announced it paid down $1.9 billion in debt by drastically extending its payment terms with vendors. The corporation went from net-30 to net-60 days--in some cases, net-never--after sale. Why can't you do the same on a smaller scale? Whenever you negotiate additional time to pay, you have created an interest-free permanent loan for yourself.

Whether you have $5,000, $50,000 or $100,000 in payables, extending those payables 30 days is free cash. Would you rather ease your cash flow problems or be warm and fuzzy with your vendors? It's your choice.

If your terms are 30 days, see if you can get 60, and in another three months try for 90. Negotiate honestly with your vendors; be upfront about why you need extra terms and that you need their help. About 90 percent will respond favorably. If you absolutely need a vendor, let him win. In most cases, you can find other sources that will go the extra mile for you; they are your real friends.

When you are negotiating, make sure you don't just take. Offer something in return, such as a larger share of your business, a slight price increase and a willingness to discuss terms again in six months or a year. Make a deal that you can honor within reason. If you cannot send payment as agreed, make a call directly to the credit manager explaining the dilemma, which always works. Negotiate directly with the credit decision maker. If your vendor is substantial enough, visit his headquarters to put a face behind the credit request.

And how ridiculous is the standard of paying on the first of the month to rent a space that hasn't been used yet? When it comes to leasing facilities, negotiate, negotiate and negotiate some more. Don't forget to offer something in return so it's a win-win for both sides. If you can, prolong the lease period with resumption of normal rent in a year or two. You should be paying 30 days after you have used the space/service. Paying your landlord's mortgage on the first of the month is not your problem. More than half of our clients have modified the cost and payment terms on their facilities. So get with the crowd making money, improving cash flow and easing their pain.

So what do you do when someone asks you for better payment terms? Tell them you read this article or my book and you're not going for it. Then smile and give on your terms, and get something back. Be a smart supplier and work with your clients or customers through difficult times since their success becomes yours.

Collect faster and pay slower. Good cash flow helps your business, yourself and your loved ones. A good credit rating is great, but can you afford it?