Why Proper Titles Are Important For Entrepreneurs
A job title is usually pretty important in the corporate world. To be a Director versus a Manager in most firms is a distinction not just in seniority, but also income, perks and networking potential. To be an Executive is to be a form of business royalty. We think of company executives as a Masters/Mistresses of the Universe, complete with 6-figure salaries and generous expense accounts.
For entrepreneurs, titles are a tricky thing. Any start-up founder can refer to herself as a CEO or Chairman, but to be a CEO of a basement office with 3 part-time staffers is often a strange play on words. You can be the Chairman/COE/President, but you still need to sweep up at the end of the day.
When I was 27 years old, I started my first business. I led a team of four people out of a loft in Downtown Los Angeles. My young company specialized in technical documentation, web design and copyediting services. I needed to give myself a title.
Did I call myself Managing Copyeditor? No.
Did I call myself Head Writer? No.
Did I call myself Senior Technical Documentation Specialist? No.
I titled myself Managing Partner.
To be frank, it sounded cool. Of course, I didn’t have any partners. It was less ostentatious than President or CEO, but still connotated some level of authority. I liked the idea of leading a group of shadowy Partners in some darkened conference room. I could have called myself Chief Troublemaker or Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence (both real titles by the way).
There was just one problem. My title told people absolutely nothing of what I did.
For years, I told myself it didn’t matter. For the people who knew my work, my title was inconsequential. The vast majority of my clients just knew me as Scott, not Managing Partner Scott Moe.
However, what became clear after a while was that it was impossible for clients or colleagues to refer me to others. Technically, I was a Consultant (an alternate title I used), but the term was so vague that, again, all it did was obscure the ways I could work with people. “Consult how?” was usually the first question people would ask. Since I wasn’t specific in identifying my expertise, I was relegated to being Scott, the guy who did “stuff.”
My business has evolved quite a bit from my first four-person team. Additionally, how I refer to myself has changed too. I now use the title Video Content Producer. It is not the most well-known title that I could use, but it is probably the most specific term I could use in plain English. I create marketing and instructional videos and animations for clients. Yes, I’m also the CEO/CFO of my business, but then I’m also the Chief Bottlewasher too, so an executive title doesn’t really serve me.
So, in your young business, if you are a founding member wearing multiple hats, be careful when deciding on a title. Be it a Mechanic or an Immigration Attorney, your title should clarify your services, not your role.