CEO, freelancer, or what should you call yourself?

Over the years I have seen many colleagues just starting out and presenting themselves as CEOs, Directors of their “company”, Owners, etc. I think it is great to be CEO if that’s what you want. But is that what you really are? And is that what you really want?

In order to present yourself as CEO, i.e. use it as a job title in your resume or your social-network profiles, you need to actually be a CEO. Being a freelancer / having your own business/ working for yourself is not the same as being a Chief Executive Officer. Chief Executive Officer means you’re someone’s “chief”, that you have people under you. Calling yourself a Director implies that you have people to direct. Directing yourself does not qualify. Does anybody report to you?

Several times I’ve seen the title of CEO under the names of colleagues that had just presented themselves in a translation forum to say they were new in the translation world and needed advice on how to find new clients or what to charge. This makes me very skeptical. There’s a discrepancy here that simply makes those translators look somewhat unreliable or insincere. The above titles require experience, some prior steps/titles, and usually people under you, and I don’t think they should be used lightly.

“Owner” is somewhat different. You can be the owner of a company and be a sole proprietor. If you have your own business, you are a “business owner”. For example, I do business as “FRESNEL technical translations”, I have registered this as my business name in Massachusetts. I am a sole proprietor, so I don’t have anyone reporting to me. I have regular collaborators (e.g. for large projects or for when I don’t have time or when the language pair requested is not one I work in); when I offer them a job the PO says FRESNEL, when I pay them the check says FRESNEL, my bank account is under the name FRESNEL technical translations. To cut a long story short, this is a registered business and since I own it, I can call myself its owner (not that I do, really, it’s of no use to me, but I could). But I wouldn’t dare call myself a CEO. And frankly, I don’t want to. It would be bad for my business. Why?

Because I don’t want to run the risk of having clients see me as an agency. I am not an agency. In fact I state this clearly on my website: “FRESNEL is not a translation agency. There are no intermediaries or non-experts ever involved in your project. In order to handle large projects with tight deadlines, FRESNEL has a small, highly reliable network of expert translators and editors.” And it is for the same reason that my team consists of freelancers and not CEOs or Directors or Chiefs of any kind. Also because I want to make sure that what I pay them goes directly to the person that does the work.

So to be brutally honest, when I see CEO, Director and the like next to a colleague’s name, I stay away. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use such titles; but if you do, make sure they reflect reality. When you ask in a Facebook group how to do a word count in a PDF file or what the cheapest CAT tool is or how to determine your proofreading rate, and at the same time write CEO on your resume or on your online profile (or on your website, if you have one; many people don’t, and that’s even worse because if you’re a CEO of a company, the company should have a website), how do you expect a potential client not to be skeptical? And if the client is skeptical about your title, how do you expect him to trust your description of your qualifications, skills and experience?