Managing the work flow and finances of my construction company was fairly simple when I was starting out. Money came in faster than it went out, so I was able to pay the bills on time. This was especially important with subcontractors. If I paid them right away, it was easier to get them back for the next project. In addition, happy subs were more likely to bail me out if I got in a bind.

As the business grew, I found myself juggling the checkbook to keep suppliers, subs, and employees paid. Part of the problem was that my contracts were poorly written: My payment schedules allowed me to spend more for ongoing job costs than the money I had collected from the customer. This led me to shift crews from job to job so that I could...

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