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Time Bomb Late-paying customers can put your business in jeopardy. Get organized--and get paid on time.

By C.J. Prince

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Cash was flowing comfortably at Blackfin Technology, a software development and consulting firm in Boise, Idaho, until right around the start of the second quarter of 2007, when management began noticing a lag in accounts receivable. "It was really strange," says Jefferson Jewell, Blackfin's 37-year-old co-founder and president. "All of a sudden a bunch of customers started saying things like, 'I'm sorry, I didn't get that invoice. Could you resend it?'"

Turns out, it's not that strange. A "Discover Small Business Watch" survey, which in September found that economic confidence among small-business owners was at its lowest point in a year, also found that in businesses that extend credit, more than two-thirds had had customers delay payment in the previous three months. Late payments are a headache for any company, but for growing businesses, they can have a devastating domino effect: Unable to pay their own vendors, entrepreneurs wind up dipping into expensive credit cards to finance the lull. Cash flow grinds to a halt, and suddenly, just making payroll is a hurdle.

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