Philip Morgan

(Readin' time: 3m 3s)

This is an email list I've been enjoying a lot lately: anchoradvisors.com/join-the-conversation/ It's for people who run small and very small businesses, and it's full of thought-provoking stuff on running said small business. If you deal with employees, money, growth, or making business decisions, Brad's newsletter might be for you. Sign up at anchoradvisors.com/join-the-conversation/

Recently, I've been doing some market research for a client and reaching out to self-employed devs as part of that. I've been seeing a fair bit of "CEO at Self-Employed" job titles on LinkedIn as I've been doing that outreach, and I was all prepared to get up this morning and rant about that, because something about using the CEO title for yourself when you're a freelancer does seem rant-worthy, but I must have woken up on the right side of the bed, cause now it just feels mean and uncharitable to do the planned rant. That said, this "CEO of a 1-person business" thing is kind of interesting when you look at it.

That title--CEO--is an interesting and evocative one. I doubt anyone in the 1970's would call themselves a CEO unless they reported to an actual board of directors. And if you were self-employed back then and running a small business, I think you would have used a title like President, Principle, Owner, or something a bit more... humble and plainspoken than Chief Executive Officer. CEO implies big responsibility; it implies that you're responsible for large groups of people, lots of money, or very significant current or future impact. So in a sense, using the title CEO makes you look like the kid at prom who borrowed his dad's too-large-for-the-kid tuxedo. Adorable if you're in high school, but definitely less adorable in a business context.

But in another sense, you are a CEO when you're self-employed. You're at the top of the operational infrastructure of the business, you're ultimately responsible for its direction and profitability, and you're also the most visible face of the business. So in those ways, you're sort of functionally like a CEO, just on a smaller scale.

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, and in the land of digital resumes, whatever you type into the Title field in LinkedIn is your title.

I guess that's all fine, but what about building trust with clients? I think that's one very valid lens through which to view the "CEO at Self-Employed" title. Does that kind of self-given title help or hinder your efforts at earning trust from your clients?

Two things might be relevant here:

  1. I like to say that every single thing you do is a filter for the kind of clients you want to work with.
  2. I like to assume that your prospective clients are very jaded--cynical even, at least when it comes to trusting what they read online--and have every reason to disbelieve your promises. I realize this is not always true, but acting as if it is sets up the right incentives for us in our positioning, marketing, and sales activities.

So what kind of client filter is the self-given "CEO at Self-Employed" title creating? That's worth some thought, even if you don't use that title. Because any title you give yourself is part of a multi-element filter for the kind of clients you work with. The LinkedIn title might just be the first part of that filter they encounter, and you know what they say about first impressions...

For fun, I gave myself a new job title on LinkedIn. The title is "Pusherman - I help push you to do more than you thought possible". Some folks responded to LinkedIn announcing this change, and it became reeeeal obvious who thought about it and who just went with the algorithmically-suggested response, which was something like "Congrats on the new job!". It's not a new job, it's just a new ridiculous way to describe what I've done all along.

With a self-given title like that, I really should not judge the "CEOs at Self-Employed" of the world. At all.

But do think about trust-building, y'all. And do subscribe to Brad's list if you think it might be interesting. I've found it very interesting: anchoradvisors.com/join-the-conversation/