As a small-business owner, there have likely been times when you have looked at your receivables and let out a heavy sigh. Cash flow is always a sensitive subject, but it's a sucker punch when you see that you have more outstanding than is actually in the bank. Payroll can't wait. Your lease payment won't wait. But, for some reason, your customers are making you wait to get paid?

Here are three strategies to help amp up the speed of cash flow and move those receivables into the "received" column.

1. Automate Payments

Want to quickly shift your cash flow? Try automating payments. With the permission of your customers, you can keep credit card or bank account information on file and then initiate payment just by generating an invoice.

If you're not ready for the level of bookkeeping software that can handle these details for you, ask your clients and customers to fill out a credit card authorization form. That way, you can instantly process payments for outstanding invoices. You also establish an understanding with your clients early in your relationship about how and when payment is due.

It's true that you will incur fees with credit cards and automated clearing house (ACH) payments, but isn't Net 6 minutes with a credit card better than Net 60 days with a check?

2. Require Up-Front Deposits

No matter what kind of business you run — whether you head up a general contracting company or a boutique advertising agency — there's value in getting deposits up front. Up-front deposits confirm a client's commitment and speed up your cash flow.

First, you will need to decide what percentage of the project should be paid in advance (25 percent to 50 percent is an average deposit amount.) The most important aspect of establishing a deposit policy is to outline both how and when deposits must be paid, and when remaining balances will come due. If you're creating intellectual property for your clients, you might consider a clause in your contract that releases rights upon receipt of final payment. There's nothing like a sense of urgency to inspire a speedy payment.

3. Use Discounts as Rewards

If you find that your customers need additional incentive to speed payments along, consider an early or on-time payment discount. Many invoicing programs (including QuickBooks) allow you to include information about such discounts directly into your invoices. By offering a reward for more desirable payment behavior, you might find that you not only improve cash flow but also cultivate a better client base. Such incentives reward you and the customer.

Each of the recommendations made here can help your company put capital where you need it — in your bank account and ready to fuel your next business need.