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 choose a business title that reflects that.
Business titles let people know what role you hold at your company—and, as such, it’s important to choose your job title wisely. But the question is, what job title is the right fit for you?
Let’s take a look at 15 job titles you might want to consider as you grow your business.
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What’s in a Name? Why Small Business Owner Titles Are Important
First things first—before we jump into the different business titles to consider, let’s quickly cover why choosing the right business title is so important.
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 can also help make you look more professional during the business development process. (“Kelly Smith, Chief Executive Officer” on a business card comes across as more professional than just “Kelly Smith” without a title.)
- It helps define your role to your employees… As you grow your business, you’re 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 to 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.
- It can help indicate your business structure… There are multiple business structures, from limited liability companies (LLCs) to sole proprietorships to corporations. The company owner title you choose can clarify your business structure. For example, an LLC owner that runs a creative consulting firm might choose “founder and creative director” to reflect the size and scope of their business. In contrast, a freelancer with a sole proprietorship might choose a less formal title like “writer” or “graphic designer” to indicate that they’re the sole owner of the business and a one-person show.
- ...and your company’s managerial structure. Small business owner titles can also give insight into your company’s managerial structure. For example, if you are the CEO, and you also have a president, 2 vice presidents, and 4 employees at the director level, that gives prospective clients or colleagues a sense of your organizational structure.
Best Small Business Owner Titles
So, what are some of the most common business owner titles? And which one is the right fit for you?
Let’s take a look at a few titles for business owners you might want to consider as you take your business to the next level.
Want to keep it simple? Especially when starting out, owner is a common title that is simple and straightforward. One caveat is that this title can sound like something you are instead of what you do. It may not convey that you are in charge of the business’s day-to-day operations.
Be sure you’re not selling yourself short with the title of owner. If you need to secure funding, you have big visions for your company, or you are looking to grow exponentially, incorporate your business, and perhaps even go public one day, a more authoritative title could open more doors.
One of the most popular owner titles in the startup business world, founder implies that the person holding the title (a.k.a. the company owner) 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.
This is a great title if you want to showcase the fact that you were the driving force behind the company from Day 1. It’s also unique among the options in this list in that only the person (or people) that founded the business can ever hold this job title.
The only drawback? Using founder as your title doesn’t tell people much about your day-to-day involvement in your business. A founder could have zero involvement after the initial startup phase. So if you want a title that reflects ongoing responsibilities, this might not be the perfect job title for you.
A CEO (chief executive officer) is a big-picture thinker. 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 business strategy to help the business get there. Typically, CEOs also have the final say when it comes to big decisions.
If you’re a decision-maker who’s involved in the big-picture strategy of your business (and less involved in the day-to-day operations around the implementation of that strategy), the CEO job title could be a good fit for you.
More C-Suite Titles
Depending on what you’re responsible for, there may be another C-level title that’s a better fit than CEO.
4. Chief Operating Officer
The chief operating officer (COO) is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the company. COOs execute a company’s goals and plans and ensure that all departments are working together to succeed.
If you’re focused on the logistics and business operations of your company, chief operating officer is a title to consider.
5. Chief Marketing Officer
If, as a business owner, your focus is on growing your business through marketing, you might consider taking the title of chief marketing officer (CMO). This is the executive responsible for developing and implementing the company’s marketing strategy—whether that’s conducting market research or designing a social media campaign to support a new product launch or store opening.
6. Chief Financial Officer
If your focus as a company owner is on the financial health of your business and the day-to-day business financials, you might opt for the title of chief financial officer (CFO). The CFO is responsible for seeing all the financial aspects of a business, including budgets, sales projections, and accounting. So, if your biggest responsibility in running your business lies in overseeing financial business operations, CFO is a solid choice for your business title.
7. Chief Technology Officer
The chief technology officer (CTO) is focused on all of the technical aspects of a business, from overseeing the company’s IT strategy to developing new software.
8. Chief Creative Officer
A chief creative officer (CCO) is in charge of ideation and development of the company’s creative elements. This may include graphic assets (like the logo or business card), copy, and creative strategy (like developing new product ideas).
9. Chief Sales Officer
If your main responsibility is business development, chief sales officer (CSO) could be the right title.
10. Chief Training Officer or Chief People Officer
Some business titles are focused less on the business owner and more on what they do for the employees. Chief training officer could work for you if your focus is on onboarding, training, and growing new departmental managers and team members.
On the flip side, if you’re more focused on company culture and ensuring employees have a positive experience, you might opt for the title of chief people officer (CPO).
11. Director of [Insert Department Here]
Some small business owners find C-suite business titles to be too formal. If you fall into that camp, you might opt for a director-level title.
For example, instead of chief creative officer, you might give yourself the title creative director. Or, instead of chief technology officer, you might prefer technical director. The titles creative director or technical director still tell people what you’re responsible for in the company—without sounding formal or stuffy.
Director-level business titles to consider:
- Creative director
- Director of finance
- Director of operations
- Director of marketing
- Technical director
- Sales director
- Director of training or director of people
12. Managing Director
Another option you might consider if you’re not a fan of more corporate-sounding titles is managing director. Or, if you have one or more business partners: Managing partner or managing member.
The title of managing director communicates the same message as CEO: You’re the person running the company, making the decisions, and steering the long-term strategy. But because some people associate a CEO with larger companies, many small business owners prefer the managing director title.
13. General Manager
General manager (or GM) is another business title similar to CEO or managing director: It says that you’re the person in charge of managing all aspects of your business.
While general manager is an appropriate title for a variety of small business types, it tends to be a more popular job title in hospitality and retail businesses.
“Principal” could mean 1 of 2 things, depending on the business. It can be a job title similar to CEO, managing director, or GM. Like those titles, it communicates that you’re the person in charge who is running and managing your business.
But principal is also a business title that’s often used in client relations or client services for the person in a business who acts as the primary (principal) contact for all the company’s clients and accounts. This title is particularly popular in industries like finance and insurance.
If, as the owner of your small business, your main role is managing your clients, principal might be the best title for you.
If you want to lend a serious air of authority with your small business owner title, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than president. It affirms your position as the head of the company, and because of its political origins, president is a title that suggests a position of authority and power in an organization.
If you’re worried the president title doesn’t convey enough information about what, exactly, you do at your company, you can partner it with any other on this list to send a clearer message. For example, president and CEO or president and managing director.
Choose the Right Business Owner Title for You
What’s in a name? A lot, actually. What you call yourself signals who you are and what you do to the outside world: Clients and customers, prospective employees, peers, and investors.
But when it comes to choosing a title, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and no rules. (You’re the boss, after all!) The title that most accurately reflects you, your role, your industry, and your vision for your business—whether that’s a creative business owner title, one of the more traditional job titles, or something in between—is going to be the best small business owner title for you.
This post was updated in July 2023.