I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.
I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.
O'Reilly Book Distributors
One of the problems with running a training business is getting one's customers to pay their invoices. It's not like we've had any bad debts, it's just that most of our clients are from "big business", and for an invoice to be paid it needs to be posted, sat on someone's desk for a month, mis-filed, resent in triplicate, routed to the wrong accounts department, resent again with a supplier contract, forwarded to the legal department because there may be IP issues, who forward it to risk management because there may be public liability issues, who forward it to HR because it involves training, who forward it back to accounts for payment. Eventually, some poor manager asks to pay it on their personal credit card so they can have it reimbursed later.
We tried to encourage prompt payment by offering a discount, but this ended up being more work as we had to issue a second invoice when the first wasn't paid in time. We'd then go through the same proceedure a second time.
Eventually we discovered a trick. Offer free books if the invoice is paid on time. Because this directly benefits the employee, the invoices start to become hot stuff, and we're seeing a lot more invoices being paid on time. That's a great thing, as it means we can spend less time chasing accounts, and more time writing new courses and presentations.
Unfortunately, there's just one small speed-hump, and as our business has grown the the speed-hump has got bigger and bigger. It's the actual process of ordering the books themselves.
We have an agreement with the Australian distributor of O'Reilly and many other technical publishers. We order the books with a significant discount, and they arrive either at our office or one of our training labs. Everyone's happy, or at least that's the plan.
In reality, our distributors have become increasingly more difficult to work with. We get a lot of conflicting information about whick books are 'in stock', or when books are due to arrive. We'll be told that all of our books will arrive at a training centre, only to discover that some are missing and have a 4-8 week delay.
One frustrating situation included the books being returned due to courier error. Rather than us being notified of the problem, the books were re-sold to another customer. It was only when we called to ask why our delivery was so overdue that we were informed as to what happened, and that for us to get the books we would expect another 4-8 weeks delay. We still don't have those books.
I'm at the point where I have no confidence that we can supply any of our customers with books in a timely fashion, particuarly if it's something that has been recently published such as Perl Best Practices. I don't mind if books come late, as long as we're told before-hand, rather than discovering on the day of a training course. Our distributors are quite aware that we're unhappy, but have not yet demonstrated any plan to rectify the situation. Apparently giving us a phone-call to let us know there are delays is completely out of the question.
The pain of ordering books is now starting to approach the pain of chasing accounts. Unless we find a new distributor (or our existing one lifts their game), we may have to reduce our book freebies to the two books we can obtain reliably (Programming Perl, and Perl Coobook), or worse still give away boring things like T-shirts or game consoles. I'd be very sad if it came to that, as I'd rather our freebies generate revenue for some of Perl's best minds, rather than for textile or electronics manufacturers.