Jul 07, 2020

Founder, CEO, or President? A Guide to Entrepreneur Titles

What’s in a name? More than you might think. As a small business owner, you have complete freedom to choose the title you want: CEO, owner, president, boss, head honcho, accounting ninja—whatever you want. However, names carry meaning, and you want to make sure yours delivers the message you intend.

If you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of potential titles, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed. Does “founder” really capture all that you’ve done (and still do) for the business? CEO—aren’t you more like CEO, CFO, CPO, and every other chief something officer?

To help you find a title that captures who you are and what you do, we’ve put together a quick guide to entrepreneur titles. Below, we’ll walk you through a few potential common titles that might fit you perfectly—then, we’ll help you know how to pick one.

Potential Names and How to Choose One

Before we take a look at your potential job title options, you need to know what you’re looking for. You’ll want a name that captures your role and feels right. If CEO feels to corporate-y for you, then forget about—there’s plenty of other options.

CEO

CEO, or chief executive officer, is a common title for the man or woman in charge. The title usually has an air of magnitude to it, suggesting leadership over a large, established company. Sometimes, it’s too big for a small business owner, but other times it’s just right—that’s for you to decide. 

Founder

Founder has a startup feel to it—like you built the business from the foundation up. It’s gained traction in recent years, but it only works if you actually started the company. If you purchased an existing business and did more of the buying than the founding, this title might not be right for you.

President

President carries a similar weight to CEO, and it also distinguishes itself from a C-suite. If you plan on building an executive team, you’ll want to consider the titles your peers might have—or you might just end up with more than one president.

Owner

Owner has a more humble undertone to it. It doesn’t convey the same authority as CEO or president, but it clearly denotes who the decision-maker is. If you’re an owner of a small business or are a solo entrepreneur, this title could be the one. 

Principal

The title of principal falls right in between owner and CEO on the authoritarian scale. It’s more official than owner but less grandiose than CEO—making it perfect if you own a small agency or consulting business that’s trying to look and feel bigger than it actually is. 

General Manager

General managers are usually in charge of the entire company or the company’s operations. While the general manager isn’t always the owner of a business, they are usually the ones responsible for making the big decisions.

If you’ve looked over all these job titles and none of them feel right—don’t panic. You’re the boss—you can create your own unique title. 

Own a bar? Become the CBO—chief beverage officer. Run a digital marketing business? Dub yourself the #MediaMaster.

The best part about being a small business owner is you get to call the shots. The world does enough of telling you what you can and can’t do—when it comes to choosing your job title, you’re the one in control. Have fun, be creative, and pick (or create) a title that perfectly fits you.

Small Business Owner or Entrepreneur?

Small business owner and entrepreneur are often used interchangeably, but the titles don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Running your own business doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs come up with innovative ideas that carry a high level of risk. Their ventures usually target rapid growth and high returns. Thus, entrepreneurs have the potential to leave a bigger impact on their community and the world—and they also have the potential to epically fail and disappear into the startup void.

Small business owners, on the other hand, tend to focus on proven methods. They’re not inventing new products or services—they’re just identifying needs in the community and providing the apparent solution. For example, if there’s no gas station for miles, then it makes sense for a small business owner to capitalize on the opportunity. Or if the closest pizza joint is in the next town, then a small business owner might want to start one closer to home. Small business owners still operate under a certain level of risk (as all business owners do), but less so than entrepreneurs.

Choose Your Title and Own It

As Juliet proclaimed: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” 

Regardless of your title, pick one and own it. Yes, a name is important, but don’t let the name change you, your business, or your responsibilities. For even if you were called something else, would that change who you are or what you do?

About the author

Avatar
Jesse Sumrak
Jesse Sumrak is a Social Media Manager for SendGrid, a leading digital communication platform. He's created and managed content for startups, growth-stage companies, and publicly-traded businesses. Jesse has spent almost a decade writing about small business and entrepreneurship topics, having built and sold his own post-apocalyptic fitness bootstrapped startup. When he's not dabbling in digital marketing, you'll find him ultrarunning in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Jesse studied Public Relations at Brigham Young University.

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