Managing different stakeholders’ different needs.

  • Have you ever spoken to a clear-headed, inspiring CEO, who delegates to a utterly unimaginative and listless junior who contradicts everything the CEO had said?

  • Or worse, have you ever figured everything out with the marketer (and priced accordingly), only for the CEO to shun everything and re-brief from the top?

  • Have you written copy for a website where the marketing team wants to say one thing but the CTO wants something else? I once had a CTO insist that I add all the tech architecture (including the diagram) details on the homepage of their website!

Having multiple stakeholders on a freelance project is like having multiple bosses at work — a recipe for disaster. But it is surprisingly common and often inevitable. Work in the modern world is about different people’s ideas, even the stupid ones.

As a freelancer how to be managing different stakeholders’ differing needs? Let’s look at a few scenarios and I’ll tell you what I do.

Worst case first: Nobody knows what they want, but everyone wants to have a say.

CEO, CMO, CTO, CFO, CQO all want to be in all meetings. Everyone wants to have a say on the final output. Two of them are obsessives who will rewrite everything you write. In this case, run. It will not be worth it.

If you ever smell ego in the mix, follow my grandmother’s advice — pinnangaal pidarila pada odu (run so fast that the back of your foot touches the back of your head).

Best case scenario: Passionate people invested in the outcome.

This is the kind of project that will bring you glory. There will be 2-3 people who will argue and debate endlessly, but every word they say will make the final product better. This will be irritating, but worth it. Best way to address this is to stay in control of all conversations.

Remember that with these people conversations will go all over the place. Managing different stakeholders gets easier when you learn to politely, but firmly, keep bringing them back.

Juniors aren’t ready yet.

Sometimes as a freelancer, you’ll have to work with a junior person, while a senior makes the final decision. If the senior doesn’t want to speak to you directly, and junior doesn’t understand / articulate / mediate feedback clearly, you’ll be in a fix. Your work will be constrained by the skills of the junior.

This can be easily solved. Get on the good side of the junior first. Do everything they need to get the job done — as many edits, as many meetings etc. This won’t go on forever; only until you build trust. In this case, you’re not managing different stakeholders, only the junior, who in turn manages the senior.

In a few days, you’ll see that the junior is advocating on your behalf. Then you’ll be set! As a freelancer, remember that your job is to make the junior look good, not yourself.

Finance, procurement, admin etc. aren’t aligned to business goals.

Finance / procurement is to freelancing as HR is to salaried employment. The business teams want the best candidate, but don’t want to get into dirty negotiations, so they’ll bring the finance / procurement. Handling this depends on your business positioning.

  • If you’re the ‘cheapest and best’ player, you’ll have no problem.

  • If you’re not competing on price, stand your ground. Tell the procurement fellows that this is the price, take it or leave it. More often than not, they’ll take it because the business team has already made the decision. (Become the best at what you do, it helps.)

There’s another thing: Business teams will want everything urgently, but finance will pay in 30 days! Call them out on their bullshit. They’ll say “what do we do, this is finance’s policy. We can’t change policy.” Laugh at them. Make a scene. Withhold delivery. You’ll see finance magic happen.

If you can do this nicely, politely and professionally, you’re golden!

P.S: Many thanks to @GautamGhosh for this question. 🙂