When you’re a small business owner trying to choose the right title to fit your position, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the number of choices you have—or to think your only options for business owner titles are “owner” or “CEO.”
Business titles for small business owners should be consistent with the company’s goals and objectives, but they should also feel personal. You’re the owner of your small business, but you also wear many other hats—and your business title should reflect your multifaceted role.
We’ve put together some simple steps to follow when deciding what small business owner title is right for you. Then, you can take a look at our list of both common and creative titles to see if one you like is on that list. And if not, you’re the boss—create your own!
Now that you know what steps to take as you choose your job title as a small business owner, let’s take a look at some job title potential options. You have so many choices when it comes to job titles for small business owners, and we’d be hard pressed to list them all. But after surveying small business owners in a variety of industries, we were able to gather some of the most common business owner titles.
See if a few of these titles suit your style, and then take a practice run at a networking event by introducing yourself using those titles. You’ll quickly know which ones feel right and which ones simply aren’t a fit.
Chief executive officer, or CEO, is a common title in the business world and will leave no one in doubt that you’re in charge of your company. If you want to convey that your company is well-established or has a large team of employees, CEO might be the right title for you.
Conversely, if you’re a solopreneur, the term CEO might give off a stuffy air that doesn’t accurately describe your business, or your role within it.
Many people consider “president” to be interchangeable with CEO. Again, this title conveys authority, so it’s an option worth considering if your goal is to give your business the gravitas of a more established firm. When choosing between president and CEO, consider your legal business entity, as well as how you want to structure the titles of additional hires as your company grows.
For small businesses owners who haven’t filed organizational documents as a partnership or corporation, the title of owner is a straightforward way to denote who holds financial ownership of your company. Owner has less gravitas than either president or CEO, but this might work well if you’re the operator of a very small business, such as an LLC or sole proprietorship, with few to no employees.
If you feel that your role in your small business fits the definition of owner, but that term doesn’t feel quite right, there’s a second option. Proprietor is an older term used to describe the owner of a small business, and is particularly common within small, main-street style retail businesses.
In recent years, the title founder has gained popularity within businesses—particularly in the tech industry—that start small and very hands-on, but have fast growth trajectories. Calling yourself a founder conveys to your earliest employees that you intend to take a bootstrapping approach to your growth and be highly involved in the day-to-day work—all of which can improve the camaraderie and teamwork between you and your staff.
Keep in mind that a founder is defined as the person who originated or started the business, so it’s not an appropriate fit if you purchased an existing business or bought shares in an established company.
If you’re looking for something a little more official than owner but you don’t feel up to the level of CEO, you might consider the title of principal. Although it may conjure memories of middle school detention, principal is a common small business owner title, particularly for owners of small agencies or consulting businesses.
Do you prefer a business position title that gives you the authority of ownership but is more descriptive of the daily role you play within your business? Consider a title that includes the word “director,” such as:
If you want to convey that you’re the one making your company’s major decisions—and not just taking a backseat to your business operations—you can use the terms “managing member” or “managing partner.” Both of these terms imply that you have the status of an owner but also clue people in on your actual responsibilities. For some owners, however, these terms might sound too much like legalese.
If you’re running the day-to-day operations of your small business and that requires a lot of business management work, you might choose to give yourself the title of administrator. This title is descriptive of your work while still stating that you have authority over the business.
If you don’t consider yourself CEO material but want the status of a business owner with a C-level title, consider creating your own. You can choose to be the chief of anything within your company. Here are some of the creative examples we’ve seen:
If none of these conventional business position titles feel right for your personality or the role you play within your company, you can get a little creative. Instead of choosing an established title, create your own. Feel free to choose a title that downplays the prestige of your role as business owner, if that feels uncomfortable to you, while also being descriptive of what you do.
This strategy is particularly useful if creating a team-oriented culture is important to how your business runs. Choosing a business title that removes the sense of hierarchy from your ranks will help everyone focus on doing whatever it takes to get the job done, without getting stopped up by intimidation or fear.
If you work in a creative industry, you can take a lot of license with your small business owner title. You might craft something that’s even a little silly. As long as you think it fits what you do and the personality of your business, the sky’s the limit.
Choosing your small business owner title is a very personal decision. Some business owners are happy to go with a traditional title that makes clear their status as an owner, while others are more interested in a creative HR title or descriptive title. You may be the owner of a small business, but the word “owner” may not truly describe the role you fulfill within the company.
These are all concerns you need to take into account when choosing your small business owner title. Follow these tips to pick the right job title for you.
As with many creative pursuits, it’s easy to overthink your job title. You can spend too much time thinking of all the “what ifs” and waiting for the “right” option to present itself to you. The brainstorming phase can drag on with the persistent idea that there’s always something better just around the corner.
Don’t get stuck in the brainstorming phase. Your title is important, but it’s also not set in stone. Yes, you might print business cards and put your job title on your business website, but you can always change your mind if you find something that better fits your role.
We’re not recommending that you jump into your business title without some thought—but don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in choosing the perfect title that you neglect your other, vital tasks! Find a title you like, commit to a decision, and move forward with running your business.
One important consideration when choosing the right small business owner job title is how your title will be perceived—both by your employees, and to those outside your organization, including your customers or clients.
Let’s start with how your title will be understood internally. Each title comes with a dictionary definition and then the connotation, or how it’s perceived—and some titles bring about a lot of inherent assumptions.
For example, giving yourself the title of “owner” may lead your employees to assume that you have no internal management role within the company, as an owner is often perceived as someone who finances a company but doesn’t get their hands dirty on a daily basis.
Your title should also be understandable to your customers, or anyone who doesn’t have intimate knowledge of your business or industry. Business owner titles that are very technical in nature or overly creative can leave friends, family, and acquaintances at a loss when trying to understand what you do. These are the very people who may be your best source of networking and client referrals, so you should be able to introduce yourself in a way that’s actually meaningful to the person you’re speaking to.
We’ve danced around the idea that each job title conveys meaning and has, for lack of a better term, a personality. For instance, we all innately understand that a CEO isn’t the same thing as an owner. The titles “CEO” and “owner” might be interchangeable in meaning, but they denote different stature, as well as levels of involvement within the organization.
When someone introduces herself as a CEO of a company, our minds conjure images of skyscrapers, powerful businessmen, expensive suits, and million-dollar corporations. If you’re the owner of a small marketing agency, calling yourself a CEO might put the wrong picture into someone’s head.
How we perceive job titles differs from person to person, but it’s important to survey others and get a pulse on how certain business position titles will be viewed across the board. If you’re looking to come off as more powerful or confident than you feel, CEO might be the perfect title. If you want to be perceived as more of a team player or benevolent leader, you might opt for a friendlier title.
In the end, your title should first and foremost feel right to you, so let your own personality and preferences play a role in which title you choose. If you don’t feel comfortable with your business owner title, you’re going to feel awkward or even avoid using it when introducing yourself to others. Make sure that the title you choose fits you, and that you’ll be comfortable saying it aloud in a variety of settings.
Although your own opinion of your title is important, your title shouldn’t be solely dependent upon personal preference—you also need to think about how your job title suits your company culture. As your small business owner’s leader, it’s likely that you have set the company culture. You’ll innately know whether the title you like fits that environment.
For example, if you’re the owner of a newer company within a creative industry, you might want to choose a creative or descriptive business title—and CEO simply might not jibe if you’re operating a cutting-edge social media or technology company. On the other hand, if you’ve started a high-level business consulting practice, CEO might convey just the right amount of gravitas.
Once you’ve found a few titles that you think fit your personality, and your business’s personality, it’s time to ask for some feedback. Ask your friends, trusted advisors, and employees for their take on your final contenders.
That said, be selective about who and how many individuals you ask, as too much feedback can be just as detrimental as too little. You want a range of viewpoints from sensible individuals both inside and outside your industry, who’ll factor in your personality, business management style, and the internal culture of your company in their deliberations. Avoid contrarians who will undercut your line of thinking and send you back to the brainstorming phase all over again.
Although it’s easy to think that owner, CEO, principal, and partner are all interchangeable, the truth is that your job title says a lot about your business, as well as you personally.
Most business titles come with specific dictionary definitions as well as an underlying emotional or reputational connotation. Telling someone you’re the CEO of a company gives them a different understanding of your small business than simply calling yourself the owner.
The small business owner job title that you choose should fit your personality and the culture of your company, while also making clear to customers and clients your relationship to the business.
Georgia McIntyre is the director of content marketing at Fundera.
Georgia has written extensively about small business finance, specializing in business lending, credit cards, and accounting solutions.