Small business owner titles can go a long way in establishing yourself as a leader to colleagues, clients and customers—but what title should you choose?
When you’re first starting your business, chances are, you’re wearing a lot of hats. You’re the business owner—but you’re also acting as the administrative assistant, the accounting manager, the marketing director…you get the picture.
But as you grow your company, it’s important to narrow down your responsibilities and focus on taking your business to the next level—and choosing a title that reflects that.
But the question is, what title should you choose? Let’s take a look at eight small business owner titles you might want to consider as you grow and scale your business.
What’s in a Name? Why Small Business Owner Titles Are Important
First things first—before we jump into the different titles to consider, let’s quickly cover why choosing the right title is important for small business owners.
There are a few reasons why nailing the perfect small business owner title is a must for you and your business, including:
- The right title lends a sense of credibility. Having an official title (instead of just saying “Hi, my name is Joe/Jill, and I run this place!”) can lend a sense of credibility, authority and legitimacy to you and your business.
- It helps define your role to your employees… As you grow your business, you’re also going to be growing your team. And as new employees come on board, you want them to understand who you are and what role you play in your business—which the right title can help clarify.
- …and yourself. You might not think you need clarification on who you are and what role you play in your business. But giving yourself a title can help you clarify what responsibilities you are going to tackle as you grow your business—and which you’re going to trust your team to handle for you.
Clearly, choosing the right title is a must for small business owners. But what are some of the most common titles—and which one is the right fit for you?
Let’s take a look at a few small business owner titles you might want to consider as you grow, scale and take your business to the next level.
“Founder” is a popular term in the startup world; it implies that the person holding the title built the business from the ground up, from coming up with the business idea to developing the products and/or services to hiring the first employees.
Founder is a great title if you want to showcase the fact that you were the driving force behind the company from day one. Founder is a unique title in that, unlike many of the other titles on this list, only you—the person that founded the business (or, if you founded your business with other people, only you and your partners)—can ever hold it.
(The only drawback? While using the founder title clearly ties you to your company’s origins, it doesn’t tell people much about your day-to-day involvement in your business—so if you want your title to reflect your responsibilities within your company, this might not be the best bet.)
CEOs (which stands for chief executive officer) are big-picture thinkers; they’re best at looking at the business as a whole and figuring out which direction the company needs to go—and then devising the long-term plans and strategies to help the business get there. Typically, CEOs also have the final say when it comes to making big decisions for the team and company.
If you’re a decision maker that’s more involved in the big-picture strategy of your business (and less involved in the day-to-day implementation of that strategy), the CEO title could be a good fit for you.
Chief [Insert Function Here]
CEO isn’t the right title for every business owner. But no matter what function you have in your business, there is a C-level title you can use that will showcase your day-to-day responsibilities and communicate that you’re a key part of your business’ executive team.
For example, as a small business owner, is your biggest role in managing the day-to-day operations of your company? If so, then COO (chief operations officer) could be a good fit. Is your main responsibility continually developing and innovating your software products? Then CTO (chief technology officer) might be a better fit.
The point is, whatever key area you’re focused on in your business, there’s a corresponding C-level title to match—and if your main priority is to have your title be an accurate representation of what you do in your business, that C-level title could be your best option.
If you like the message behind the CEO title—but don’t like the actual title—you might consider managing director (or managing partner, or managing member if you have one or more partners).
The managing director title communicates the same message as CEO; you’re the person running the company, making the decisions and steering the direction and long-term strategy. Basically, they’re interchangeable—but because some people associate CEO with larger companies, some small business owners prefer to go the managing director route.
General manager (often shortened to GM) is another small business owner title similar to CEO or managing director; it says that you’re the person in charge of managing all aspects of your business. While GM is an appropriate title for a variety of small business types, it tends to be more popular in the hospitality space (e.g., GM is a popular title in the restaurant industry).
Depending on the business, principal could mean one of two things. Principal can be a title similar to CEO, managing director or GM—again, communicating that you’re the person in charge and running/managing your business. But principal is also a title that’s often used in client relations or client services—or, in other words, it’s an appropriate title for the person in a business that acts as the primary (or principal) contact for all the company’s clients and accounts. This title is particularly popular in more traditional or “old-school” industries, like finance or insurance.
If, as a small business owner, your main role is managing your clients? Principal just might be the right role for you.
If your main goal for your small business owner title is to lend a serious air of authority, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better title than president.
The title of president implies that you’re the head of the company (which, as the owner, is accurate)—but because of its political origins, it also has a sense of authority, power and respect. If you want a title that’s going to ensure people take you seriously, president is definitely a solid candidate. If you’re worried the president title doesn’t convey enough information about what, exactly, you do at your company, you can also partner it with any other on this list to send a clearer message (e.g., “president and CEO” or “president and managing director”).
If your company ever goes public (which, as a growing business, is certainly a possibility!), you’ll need a board of directors. The board of directors represents the shareholders’ interests and is responsible for making all the major decisions for the company, including setting compensation, and hiring and firing executives.
The leader of the board of directors (another elected position) is called the chairperson. While the chairperson doesn’t have to be the owner of the business, they certainly can be. So, if your company has a board of directors—and you sit at the head of that board—then chairperson would be the most appropriate small business owner title for you. (Similar to the president title, if you fulfill another role in your business, you can combine chairperson with another, more descriptive title like “chairperson and CEO.”)
Choose the Right Owner Title for You
When it comes to choosing a title, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. As a business owner, you need to choose the title that you feel most accurately reflects you, your role and your business. But now that you know some of the most common small business owner titles, you have a great starting point to explore the different titles out there—and choose the best small business owner title for you.