Business Owner Titles: How to Pick Yours
To friends and family, you’re simply known as a business owner, but as you hire workers and meet business partners, they’ll want to know your official business owner title. Business owner titles clearly define roles within an organization.
So before ordering your first box of business cards, take time to review some of the most popular business owner titles, then follow our tips for how to choose yours. What you decide will set the tone for your company.
What are business owner titles?
A business title succinctly describes your job. But the title that you pick for yourself may differ from your legal title. That name is determined by the type of business entity structure you chose when starting your company and may be used when signing legal documents. For example:
- Corporations are owned by their shareholders. Owners don’t necessarily work in the day-to-day operations of the business (though they can).
- Limited liability company (LLC) owners are called members. An LLC may be owned by a single member or multiple members.
- Partnerships, as the name implies, are owned by two or more people known as partners. Depending on how the partnership is structured, it can have general partners and/or limited partners. General partners have personal liability for the business while limited partners have limited liability.
- Sole proprietorships have a single owner who typically runs the business under their personal name. Sole proprietors may instead choose to run their companies under what’s known as a “doing business as” (DBA), trade name or fictitious name.
Popular business owner titles
You could refer to yourself as a shareholder, member, partner, sole proprietor or simply, owner, but you most likely want something more descriptive when promoting your products or services. The title you choose makes a statement about your personality, not just your responsibilities within the business. Some popular titles for business owners include:
A chief executive officer is the top-ranking position within a company and is focused on the long-term direction and financial health of the company. In a corporation, the CEO typically reports to a board of directors that represents shareholders.
There’s nothing to stop you from using the title of CEO with a different type of entity, say an LLC. Some business owners like it for the authority it lends while others believe it’s an overly large title for what may be a small, even one-person, shop.
The president also holds a top-ranking position within a company. But while a CEO is often focused on the broader long-term vision of a business, presidents tend to spend more time focusing on day-to-day operations.
You might also notice that a lot of business owners refer to themselves as principals of a company. While there isn’t a specific definition, identifying yourself as a principal often signals that you are a key decision-maker and hold a top position — if not the top position — within a company. Although it’s a powerful title, it is also appealingly vague; it signals importance without defining your role, which may be a good fit for co-owners who want to avoid a pecking order.
Branding yourself with the founder title lets people know that you are the person who started the company. But it doesn’t always signal that you’re still in charge. This could be a positive, however, when it’s time to hand off the reins to a CEO or other leader.
Managers can oversee a specific area of the business, like marketing or finance, or entire operations in the case of general managers. GMs typically hold a high-level role within a company, focusing on strategy across the company, but that title can also signify that you report to higher level executives.
A title of director within a company can mean different things. In a corporation, a corporate director will sit on the board acting on behalf of the shareholders. In other settings, the title can refer to a hands-on job. For example, a director of operations might be responsible for hiring, training and overseeing department managers.
5 tips for choosing your business title
Ready to dive in and pick your business title? Here are five tips to help you think through the title that fits your company now and as your business grows.
1. Determine your company structure
You have probably already picked one of the business entities we discussed earlier, but if you haven’t, it’s time to pause and do the necessary work of registering your business with the proper authorities. Your entity gives you a built-in title to consider. For example, if you and a friend start a partnership, you may both want to use the title of partner.
But if the legal title doesn’t truly represent your role within the company, you might not want to use it. For example, if you start an LLC, calling yourself a member when meeting customers or vendors doesn’t give the impression that you’re highly involved in the running of the business. A stronger LLC owner title might be founder or principal.
2. Choose titles by area of expertise
If you plan on hiring other people to help run the business with you, using specific business titles can help differentiate areas of expertise. For example, CEO, CFO and COO are all top leadership positions within the company, but they each have a specialty.
- CEOs set the vision and long-term strategy.
- CFO, or a chief financial officer, oversees the company’s finances.
- COO, the chief operating officer, manages business operations.
There are other C-suite roles you could consider, such as chief technology officer (CTO), chief marketing officer (CMO) and others, depending on your field.
3. Create company hierarchy
When you envision your company growing, how do you see yourself delegating new responsibilities? Most companies are organized based on a hierarchy and job titles should indicate who reports to whom and how certain roles work together.
If you’re planning to bring on additional senior executives, like a CFO or a COO for example, you might want to give yourself the CEO title. If you plan to retain greater control, you might want to use principal or founder and hire more junior roles to make up your team.
Thinking about where your company is going can help you make a decision about your title today.
4. Consider future company needs
Let’s say you’re a chef who started a restaurant. Your passion lies in creating menus and making food, but at the start as the company owner, you might do everything. You might decide to call yourself a founder of the restaurant and later bring on a manager who can run the operations side of the business. Calling yourself a founder (and chef) makes it clear that you’re the company owner, even as the business grows and other people are brought in to perform high-ranking roles.
5. Think carefully before using a creative or silly business title
While there is some research that shows creative job titles can energize employees and reduce stress — especially when the employees choose their own titles — it can also lead to confusion if responsibilities are unclear.
Hiring may become difficult, too — not everyone wants to apply for a role with a silly business title. For example, calling a digital marketing manager a “digital prophet” or a Java developer a “Java ninja” might not resonate with the people you’re trying to hire. So before you get too far into your brainstorm, think carefully before using a creative business owner title.
How real-life entrepreneurs chose their business titles
Need some inspiration? Here are the titles real-life entrepreneurs chose and their reasons why.
Reagan Jobe, co-founder and chief solver at EasyCheck
Jobe incorporated “chief solver” into his title at software company EasyCheck because he wanted to make his role in the organization clear. “It is the best way to explain what I do in the company,” he said. “When customers have any issues, they know I am the one who can solve them.”
Omowale Casselle, co-founder and CEO at Digital Adventures
Casselle chose the dual title of co-founder and CEO of his education technology startup in Chicago in order to establish ownership and accountability. “Externally, being a co-founder establishes credibility with customers to reach out and provide feedback and opportunities for improvement,” he said. “The psychology is that someone who started the company is heavily invested in making sure that customers have a great experience.”
Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls
Arnof-Fenn has used the title of founder and CEO since she began her marketing company in 2002. She wanted to make sure people knew they were talking to the top person in the company. “People tend to respect the position even before they know the person,” she said.
Michael Santoro, co-founder and managing partner at Vaetas LLC
With three co-founders in technology company Vaetas, it was important to them that all be recognized for their equal status when starting the company in 2014. “We wanted a flat organization as opposed to a hierarchy to work more efficiently,” Santoro said. When a prospect wishes to talk to the “boss” before making a buying decision, there’s more than one person who can take the call.
Frequently asked questions
What is another word for owner?
As we’ve seen, there are a lot of different words that can be used as a substitute for “owner.” Shareholder, partner, founder and member are some of the words that are commonly used to show ownership.
What is a business title?
A business title — also called a job title — is a description of what someone does at a company. Titles can also be useful to help determine an employee’s status within an organization. For example, a senior manager in a job title signals that this person holds a higher position than a manager. However, it can get tricky across companies and industries. One company might refer to a job position as a vice president while another company would call that same role a director.
What is a company title?
Just like a business title and a job title, a company title describes an employee’s role within a company. These can be descriptive of hierarchy (assistant manager versus manager), or they can describe function (marketing, finance, operation), or both.
What is the best title for a business owner?
There are a lot of different titles that a business owner can use. In deciding which title to use, think about what goal you’re trying to accomplish. Are you wanting to convey that you’re the top person in charge? Or do you want to describe the type of functional role you hold within the company? Some owners choose both — a combined title of founder and CEO could establish your history and your current role, for example.
CEO vs. owner: Which one should I put on my business card?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what you should put on your business card. But as you’re deciding what title to use and what other information to include, remember that a business card needs to be able to communicate to a prospective customer just exactly what you can do for them.