By REMODELING Magazine Staff. Jerry Krebs, controller, Ben Tyler Building & Remodeling, Louisville, Ky., Big 50 2002

If we do have a client holding out, I first send out a statement saying there was an unpaid balance. I also say that if there's a situation I'm not aware of, please let me know. I then go to the job supervisor and ask why the customer may not have paid the amount. Then I send a second letter.

Dan Bawden, Legal Eagle Contractors, Houston, Big 50 1996

If you do find yourself not being paid after a job, your first letter should do three things. First, tell your story in such a way that a third party could quickly figure out what happened. Second, demand payment within seven to 10 days, if it's overdue. Third, state what happens if your customer doesn't pay. For instance, you could say, "If we haven't received payment in seven days, we will vigorously pursue legal remedies." Send two copies of the letter, one certified -- return receipt requested -- and the other first class.

Joseph Billingham, Billingham Built, Erwinna, Pa., Big 50 1997

What I usually do is keep calling, keep needling. If that doesn't work, I will take the guy to court. I really don't want to go to court, ever. And of course from a business point of view, I always keep records of what the discussions were about. I write things down and keep track of everything. If you do that, the court will always find for you.

Connie Huey, office manager, Tim Britton Construction Services, Falls Creek, Pa., Big 50 2002

We send a series of letters. The first would say something to the effect of, You must've misplaced our invoice, or perhaps forgot to pay your bill. If we don't hear back, we send a second letter the next week. The second letter will say, We haven't heard from you with regard to our last invoice and if you have questions please contact our office. If we still don't get a check, a third letter goes out to make them aware we haven't heard from them. The fourth letter is -- or can be -- registered, depending on the amount of money owed. Four or five thousand dollars would be enough to warrant a registered letter. If all these efforts fail, it could become a mechanic's lien, if it's within 90 days of completion of the project.

Larry Parrish, R.C. Parrish & Co., Boulder, Colo., Big 50 1993

Our clients come to us by referral. I tend to check them out to make sure they're creditworthy. We have the right to check their bank balances, per my contract. So we know who we're dealing with.

Our contract says they have to pay the final invoice within five days of receipt. If they're 10 days late, we contact them by phone. If it's a very detailed time and materials contract, we'll send them a copy, along with a stamped self-addressed envelope, so they can review it and raise questions. Then I ask if we can come pick up a check. What I sometimes say is that I spoke with my office manager and she reminded me we need to get that money in the account today. That's usually effective.

Scott Richards, 1-Stop Remodeling, Savannah, Ga., Big 50 1996

We make sure we collect our extras before performing the work and that progress payments are substantially ahead of production. The final payment is written in such a way that what's due is based on the value of what's left to be done on the job. So it may be 1%. If a client is holding out -- and this varies from client to client -- we find out if it's something addressable, address it quickly, and get it out of the way.