Want to know the fastest way to jump to the top? Start your own business. You can call yourself anything you like, wear what you want, and drink during office hours. Sadly, though, this new-found freedom comes with responsibilities, not least of which is picking a job title that won’t make you sound like a colossal berk.
Here, then, is a list of monikers I suggest you avoid when starting out as a one-person band in any creative industry. I flitted between several of these before I managed to lock my ego away once more.
This sounds great, doesn’t it? You’re Creative – with a capital C! And you’re a Director! Directors are important, right? Just know that Creative Directors usually direct other people. More often than not, they also shout a lot, work terrible hours for no extra pay, and chain-drink espresso. If that’s you, then go for it. Otherwise, give this one a miss.
You might be creative but you are not ‘a Creative’. I know you’re multi-talented, but try harder. Calling yourself ‘a creative’ doesn’t say anything about what you do. My accountant is a creative; he charges me a crippling monthly fee to rise at 4pm, play golf, and get wasted.
Anything with the word “Executive” in
I know it sounds important, but that doesn’t make it right. Unless you wear a tie to work, of course, in which case it’s fine. You probably already have a plaque with your title on anyway.
The dressed-down version of Creative Director. Shouts less but worries more.
This one is fine if you actually manage at least one person besides yourself. If not, resist the urge to adopt it.
The title is often associated with comic book artists and, let’s face it, they’re probably much more talented than you. Oh – and if you are a comic book artist who currently uses “Graphic Artist”, I recommend you change it to “Comic Book Artist”. It’s a wonderful craft and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
This one’s easy. If you sell paintings or sculptures, you’re a Commercial Artist. Even then, you might sell more if you drop the “Commercial” part. Art should be a creative exploration of the human condition. Explore it first – you can trick people into buying your crap later. Commercial Artist was also used before the term Graphic Designer was widely known. It’s OK to modernise by using the new term now – it’s called progress.
"Director" or "CEO"
Anyone can be a director – just file the paperwork – but it takes talent and hard work to be a specialist. Don’t sell yourself short.
"Entrepreneur" or "Solopreneur"
You might be an entrepreneur, but it isn’t your job title. It’s fun to take on the title for a while to pretend that you spend every weekend in Aspen worrying squirrels and causing avalanches, but the façade won’t last long.
For goodness sake, at least tell people what type of freelancer you are. Are you a Freelance Interior Designer or a Freelance Hit Man? You might like the sense of mystery it adds, but you’re not doing yourself any favours.
"Senior" something or other
If you’re prefixing your regular position with the word “Senior”, such as Senior Designer, and you don’t have anyone in your company or office who’s your Junior, stop it straight away. Even if you’re ancient.
"Princess of Power" or "Master of The Universe"
Now we’re getting on to the silly ones. If you’ve made up a title derived from fantasy or sci-fi, what were you thinking? Those titles were fine when you worked for someone else, and if you could get away with it back then, great! But this time it’s your image you have to build and protect. It’s OK to have a laugh – really it is. But don’t take the piss out of yourself.
"Chief Coffee Monkey" or similar
I met a really talented illustrator who used this. He showed me his portfolio and I was blown away. I asked for his card. When I saw his title I suggested he change it. He now uses “Illustrator”, has a six-figure annual income and a D&AD award. His work might have had something to do with it, of course.
What you can learn from my plumber
My plumber has an excellent business card. It says “Phil Jones” on the top line. Underneath that is his job title: “Plumber”. It’s great because it tells me everything I need to know about what he does. He doesn’t try to dress up his line of work by calling himself a “Strategic Pipeline Analyst” or an “Aqueous Substance Manager”. He does what it says on the tin. Your job title should do the same.