How easy are you to contact? How hard is it for someone outside your immediate circle to get time on your calendar?
I was thinking of these questions the other day while listening to a panel discussion on women-owned startups. Joanne Lang, who founded AboutOne (an online family organizer), mentioned that she’d noticed regional differences in her attempts to meet with executives who might be interested in her product. In some places, she found it fairly straightforward to get time on the phone based on an email pitch, and then get face-to-face meetings based on that. My town—Philadelphia—did not come out well in this regard. To get meetings, she needed to be introduced by someone who knew the executive well, a situation that made it hard for an outsider to crack the club.
While I’m sure there are wide variances in accessibility all over the country, this question of how available you are is partly a question of how you choose to spend your time. It’s also a question of how you choose to view time—from a lens of scarcity or abundance.
There are benefits to being walled off. You have more mental space to focus on projects that are immediately beneficial to your business. In general, meetings with "insiders" are more productive than outsiders—indeed, one study of CEO time use found that meetings with insiders were better correlated with strong firm performance than meetings with outsiders. Being internally focused has a certain efficiency to it. There are only 168 hours in a week, and it’s impossible to work for all of them. Or even for more than 60 hours of them on a regular basis. You have to make choices, and the people and issues in front of you are generally a good bet.
On the other hand, it’s a big world, and chances are that not all that’s worth knowing is present inside your gates. Even within your gates, it’s probably not all present within your immediate circle. You can be mostly internally focused and yet still be fairly accessible to random new things that come your way.
One approach? Designate a certain time for dealing with random things that come over the transom. Maybe on Friday afternoons, you leave a few hours open for meetings and phone calls with new connections. You can put random emails in a "serendipity" folder and designate a time to deal with them. When the time is up, it’s up, but at least you leave yourself open to possibility, without the wheels of progress grinding to a halt.
I’ve always made sure to have my email address available via my website, partly because I find the benefits of being accessible massively outweigh the downsides. To be sure, I’ve gotten somewhat odd emails from people experiencing technical glitches while reading my books on their e-readers, and they’ve decided that I’m more accessible than their device company’s customer service people. I send sympathetic responses, even though I am completely powerless to solve their problems.
But I also hear from people with great story ideas, from intriguing sources, or about other opportunities. Given that you can always say no, I figure, why cut yourself off from hearing about new things?