Summary: Scarcity communicates value and fewer options make it easier for serious people to contact you. Send the message that you’re serious and your time is valuable by limiting your Open Office Hours even if your schedule allows more time.
Opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited.
—Robert Cialdini, Influence
Previously I explained why having open office hours is the most effective way to help people and create more passionate fans for your blog, product, or service. I also provided a 5-minute guide to setting up office hours with Google Apps.
Recently I’ve talked to some people with a flexible work/life situation that allows them to take calls just about anytime, so they opened up most of their calendar to office hours.
In this 3rd issue I hope to convince you that making yourself too available is a bad idea even if your schedule allows it.
Scarcity Communicates Value
Influence by Robert Cialdini is a business classic that belongs on every bookshelf. In it he describes the 6 “weapons of influence”: Reciprocation, Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and SCARCITY.
What you know IS valuable, your time is valuable, and the best way to communicate that message is to limit your availability.
I suggest picking a handful of 1-2 hour blocks at various times during the week and constraining the help time to 20-30 minute slots. I currently offer blocks early AM and late PM because I live in China and most people contact me from the US, Israel, and Europe. 30 minute slots allow 20 minutes of dialog and another 10 minutes in case Skype disconnects.
Constraints Limit Complexity and Increase Value
Remember the first time you tried Twitter? “What can I POSSIBLY say in 140 characters?” you thought. Turns out that this constraint provides more valuable for everyone because we must instantly get to the point. People are now using it as an email replacement.
How Lukas Fittl Constrained Time and Created Value for Me
Yesterday I contacted my friend Lukas Fittl about getting some startup advice. He responded with a link to his open office hours calendar and I took the only convenient slot next week. It was so easy, I didn’t even have to think. Just 1 choice.
Imagine if he had sent me lots of availability every day. I would have had to check my calendar and think about what works best for me. Worse yet, suppose he had “anytime”. Now I would have to calculate time zones AND check my schedule.
Too many choices!
Time Constraints Communicate You’re Serious
Visit just about any blog on the web and you’ll find a comment like:
“Have a question? Just email/tweet me/fill out this web form/ and …”
My blog used to have a similar message and nobody serious ever contacted me. Why would they? I sent a clear message the providing advice was something I did ad hoc, not something I took seriously.
Shardul Mehta knows more about product management than most product managers because he’s been doing it a long time and is deeply passionate about it. Mike Michelini knows social media in China better than any Westerner in the world because he lives and breathes it 24×7. Lukas Fittl is busy and I’ve only got 30 minutes with him next week so I’d better prepare.
Their time is valuable. They’re serious about what they do. So they’ve setup a process to maximize the impact they can make by helping others.
Serious people attract other serious people. You want people to come to you with good problems to inspire your blog posts or products. You want to engage passionate readers who will provide insightful comments. You want to meet prospective clients with hard problems they can’t solve alone.
You’re going to have to convince other serious people that you’re serious too. Send a message that you’re time is valuable.
Photo Credit: The Last Cookie