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In a corporate setting, a job title can be used as leverage, something for you to strive for. Titles to distinguish levels, such as Associate, Vice President and Managing Director, allow other employees to understand your position in the firm and the status that comes with it. Certain titles come with specific salary ranges and perks — which is one of the reasons to strive for them. Humans aim to be verified with some level of significance, and in a business setting, one of those levels of significance comes from the job title. However, when it comes to entrepreneurship, the way we think of titles is different.
One of the concepts I covered in a previous article was the risk and rewards of priorities. I have seen inexperienced entrepreneurs over-prioritize their titles — picking a title should be at the bottom of the priority list. In the age of social media, there is a never-ending wave of titles people can pick from, like Boss, President, Principle, CEO, Founder, King and Owner — take your pick. All these are non-important to an entrepreneur and are ways to validate an ego without doing any work.
A job title does not matter at the entrepreneurial level. Here’s why.
1. Job titles can be lies
Job titles in any business size can be misleading, but at the entrepreneurial level, they can be outright lies — especially if you’re the one who created it. You might call yourself a CEO, but what exactly are you chief of executing? You might be a President, but what exactly are you presiding over?
Just because you decide on a fancy title does not mean you are good at your entrepreneurial role. Similarly, just because someone you’re networking with has a fancy title does not mean they have the skills and experience to back it up. Job titles don’t always accurately represent a person’s level of knowledge or expertise.
All companies, big or small, want to be seen as professional and worth doing business with. One of the ways this is accomplished is by giving specific titles to employees. Who wouldn’t want to do business with a “vice president of a company?” But this “vice president” could be one of the less senior roles. This is true across most companies and is an old way of operating. On the other hand, someone with a simple title may be a valuable contributor to the team.
2. Job titles are misleading
Building off the previous point, job titles don’t necessarily reflect a person’s responsibilities — especially in the entrepreneurial world. When you work for a company, you realize quickly that sometimes your responsibilities tend to go above and beyond your job description. The smaller the company, the more roles you play.
For example, your title might fall in with sales, but specific responsibilities would fall more into an operations or customer service category. Furthermore, two people with the same job title may have vastly different roles and responsibilities within a company. And this becomes even more true when comparing job titles across companies.
3. Job titles can be changed at any moment
If a job title can change at any moment, it has zero value. Furthermore, as an entrepreneur, you will find that focusing too much on your title can create a culture problem as the company grows. If employees start to question and compete for title status at such an early stage, that removes the focus and teamwork from accomplishing the actual goal — growing the company. Titles can motivate employees when the company gets a specific size or has a particular structure – anything before that is just a hindrance.
As an entrepreneur, especially a bootstrapped entrepreneur, your job title is whatever needs to be done that day. If you need to make sales, you’re a salesman. If you need to pay bills, you’re an accountant. If you need to clean the office, you’re a janitor. Your job is to do whatever needs to be done.
Now, as the company changes, that concept changes. As growth comes, there will be a need for more structure and delegation. Hopefully, there comes a point when you can delegate out low ROI responsibilities. Cleaning probably is not generating the company’s greatest ROI, so delegate it. Paying bills is not generating the best ROI for your skill set, so delegate it.
When does a job title matter?
A job title matters when you decide it matters. If you feel that you can absolutely not move forward with being an entrepreneur unless you have picked out the appropriate title — then you will have to pick out the appropriate title (disclaimer: if that is the case – you might want to question if entrepreneurship is right for you).
Now, if you feel you need a title after your first hire, go for it. But chances are everyone internally understands their place in the business and their role. In my experience, depending on the business model, most employees instinctively understand their role and where they are in the structure until about 15 employees. At that point, titles might make sense.
Related: What’s A Job Title Really Worth?
Finally, if you feel you need an awesome title to fit in with all of the other awesome business people, remember this: A true business person, especially in the entrepreneurial world, does not care about your title. They care about what you do, your portfolio and what you can do to help each other grow.
If you can pick out a title and move on to focus on key priorities, excellent. But if you find yourself getting held up on titles and other minutiae, remember: titles don’t matter; execution does. Do not validate your ego by picking out a title. Validate your ego by building a better business.