Has your bank turned its back on you?

vh_illo.top.jpg By Verne Harnish, contributor


FORTUNE -- Before the credit crunch, it was easy for companies to borrow just about any amount of money anytime they wanted. As you'll hear from grocery store operator Scott Nash below, entrepreneurs often would apply for larger credit lines to expand their businesses, and they got drunk on easy credit. Who needed good money-management habits when your banker would pony up on command? You know how that story ended. Bankers turned off the spigot, and small-business owners had to find other ways to raise cash. But it's not as hard as you think to find new sources of capital. Here are five strategies that actually work.

1. Join a barter network

Entrepreneur Barrett Ersek needed a booth for trade shows. As a member of Atlantic Barter in Wilmington, Del., he traded in $5,000 worth of broken-down trailers from his Happy Lawn business to an outfit that wanted to fix and sell them. He applied that $5,000 in bartering dollars to another member's $7,500 display booth; Atlantic Barter made up the difference, which Ersek will pay back by contributing other unwanted items to the network. "This is a great way to conserve cash," says Ersek, who adds that Happy Lawn's bartering totals $250,000 a year.

2. Audit recurring charges

You may be auto-paying for things you don't need. Sam Goodner, founder of Catapult Systems, an IT consulting firm in Austin, sits down with a billing clerk at least twice a year to go over every bill. "There's probably tens of thousands of dollars a year I can cut, and the company doesn't feel the difference," he says. Recent moves: replacing a $600-a-month bottled-water service with a filtration system that costs $600 annually; saving $40,000 a year using his PR firm on a project basis, and $3,500 a month hosting his own conference calls.

3. Bill more often

Sam Goodner used to bill clients for his consultants' services on a 30-day cycle. Meanwhile he had to pay his employees twice a month, leading to what he calls "a terrible cash-flow story" that limited growth. So he started invoicing clients twice a month, changing his billing processes and systems. Surprisingly, more than 90% of his clients didn't mind, given that he still allowed them 30 days to pay; he simply bills the holdouts once a month.

4. Send pre-lien notices

San Antonio's Miner Corp., which provides national repair service and maintenance support for warehouse equipment, uses an outside provider to mail such notifications to each customer on all jobs exceeding $5,000. The notices -- familiar to many general contractors who shop there -- say that Miner is protecting its right to place a lien on the purchased items if the bill isn't paid within a set time. Bad debt at the $50 million--plus company has shrunk by $350,000 in the past 20 months.

5. Focus on profits

When Scott Nash, who owns MOM's Organic Market in Rockville, Md., couldn't get a $700,000 increase on a credit line to expand his six-store grocery chain, he worried that his bank might call the $1.1 million loan. To pay it down, he found ways to purchase inventory more efficiently, changed his pricing strategy, and raised his team's productivity. Result: He drove profits from 1% to 7% -- and his bank just expanded his credit line to $2.5 million.

Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm.  To top of page

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