Do You Need a High School Diploma to Start a Business?

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What do the following multi-millionaire successes have in common?

Andrew Carnegie, Colonel Harlan Sanders, Coco Chanel, Freddy Laker, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Hillary Swank, Nicole Kidman, Walt Disney, and Charles Culpepper (owner and CEO of Coca-Cola). 

Well… if you found this article by searching to find out if you need a high school diploma to start a business, then you can probably guess what they all have in common, and you'd be right; none of them completed high school. 

Society (educators and college recruiters mainly) would label those folks as “dropouts.” A better term might be “drop-ins” because they didn't stop at schooling. Instead, they hit the mainstream running and became famous success stories.

Our purpose here is not to discredit education. Of course, education is essential and required for most jobs. And, anyone entering the workforce without a high school diploma is at an initial disadvantage. It's not possible, for example, to join the U.S. Army without a high school diploma or a GED certificate. 

So, it must be said that the best advice is this… 

If you've left high school before receiving your diploma, you should think seriously about passing the GED. More on that later, because I think it's important. For now, though, what you'd like to know is if you can start a business even though you don't have a high school diploma (or a GED, for that matter). 

Can You Start a Business Without a High School Diploma?

Yes, anyone can start a business without a high school diploma. It's just a matter of finding what you love to do and a way to earn money doing it. However, the point at which your money-making efforts become an actual business depends on your preparation, willingness to work hard, and when you meet the definition of a business owner.

The legal definition of a business is “any activity or enterprise entered into for profit.”

Taking that further, a business, according to Investopedia, is “an organization or enterprising entity engaged in commercial, industrial, or professional activities.”  

An entity is an independent existence, like a corporation—not necessarily the “people” in the organization. And high school diploma or not, I'm sure you know, it's through a corporation the government rakes in billions in business and corporate taxes without directly taxing the people who own and operate those businesses. 

Most of us can't start a corporation though. And for those of us who can't, the term “business” can be defined as “the efforts and activities of individuals to procure and sell goods and services for profit.”

In other words, even your neighborhood lawnmowing job with its repeat customers could be considered a business within that more general definition.

Can You “Own” a Business Without a Diploma?

In our definition of business, we said that a business can be considered an entity. A business entity needs its own name, a license to operate locally, and a tax ID. And yes, the business can be in YOUR name as the “sole proprietor,” in which case you also have all the tax and legal responsibilities that go with it. Ah, the benefits of being a business owner, right?

You can also join forces with others, in which case you and your partners are the business owners.

The bottom line is that you can start and own a business without a high school diploma. 

If you get to a point where you must keep records to pay your taxes and take advantage of deductions for business expenses, you can hire a bookkeeper or an accountant. 

So, the good news is that anyone can start and own a business. And, even though you may have heard that 70 percent of small businesses don't last ten years, what every successful entrepreneur knows is that success is a journey. 

The failure rate of small businesses is 20 percent within the first year, 30 percent within year two, and 50 percent by year five. So if your business is still around by year ten, you are in the top 30 percent. 

It sounds like the odds are stacked against you, but if every potential business owner gave up on their dream because of statistics, there would be no new businesses. 

Don't be discouraged. Your small business actually has a 50/50 chance of going into year five. More importantly, not all businesses close due to failure. 

For example, let's say you go into lawn care. After five years of successfully running your business, you (or you and your partner) may decide to branch out and do lawnmower repairs and maintenance instead. You may even choose to become a lawnmower and landscaping equipment dealer.  

People take what they learn in one business, which may just be a stepping stone, and apply it to new businesses with greater potential. 

I'm not saying you should ignore the statistics completely. Starting a business is challenging. What I am saying, though, is that statistics should not dictate your decision. 

You can overcome the odds with the right qualifications, abilities, and work ethic. And you can increase those qualifications and abilities through training and certifications that don't require a high school diploma.

Qualifications You Need to Start a Business

There are qualifications you have already picked up, such as basic math and writing. Then there are those natural talents you have—the non-educational ones. The ability to communicate with your customers, for example, and leadership skills that inspire everyone working for you to want to be like you and do a good job. 

How you successfully apply and gradually improve upon those qualifications is what makes for a successful business professional. 

There are also things you need to learn when it comes to starting your own business. You can begin with this article on the website.

What Education Do You Need to Start a Business?

You already know how good you are at math and writing, and you know those skills are critical for any business owner. 

The great thing about business math, though, is that it's nowhere near as difficult as calculus or trigonometry. You can get by with basic calculations like additions, subtraction, multiplication, and division for the most part. 

To find out what basic math skills you should have, go to this Work Force Development webpage. If you need to improve your writing skills, there is plenty of free help and advice online.  

Then there are those skills that you can't learn from a textbook. For example, a natural ability to research and find solutions to problems in the real world is often more valuable than learning about hypothetical situations in books. 

Street smarts are also a thing, even if they are difficult to define. 

Some argue that entrepreneurs are born, not made. And that having a head for business is more of a talent than a skill. 

I agree; there are entrepreneurs and business owners who have “natural ability.” There are also artists, athletes, and actors who have “natural ability.” But there are also countless success stories where hard work and a desire to learn were the key ingredients.

Certifications You Can Get Without a Diploma

Here is a partial list of certifications you can get without a high school diploma. These certifications can be completed relatively quickly at many community colleges, which do not require a high school diploma to enroll. In many cases, these certifications can be helpful for your business and often be more valuable than a high school diploma:

  1. Air Conditioning/Refrigeration Technician
  2. Automotive Systems
  3. Beginning Cooking (Culinary) Skills
  4. Computer & Network Support
  5. Cosmetology
  6. Equine Science
  7. Irrigation Management/Plumbing
  8. Landscape design
  9. Truck Driver Training
  10. Welding

Check with your local community college. Many of their courses are available in the evening.

Businesses You Can You Start Without a High School Diploma

Below are just some examples of businesses you can start without a high school diploma:

  1. Become a “Handy” Person – Use the skills you gained through certifications and market yourself online.
  2. Become a Personal Trainer – If you're into fitness, you can start your own personal training business.
  3. Be a Freelance Writer – Sites like Textbroker, Fiverr, Freelancer and Upwork can jumpstart your own freelance writing business.
  4. Sell Stuff Online – Log on to social media sites (Craig's List, Neighborhood, etc.) and find free or cheap stuff, and resell it at a profit.
  5. Start a Landscaping Business – You'll need some capital, experience, and equipment for this business but here's a good read to learn more about what starting a landscaping business is really like.  
  6. Start a Photography Business – Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, but it takes talent and experience to start a profitable photography business
  7. Start a Daycare Center – If you're good with children, you can start this business in your home.
  8. Become a Pet Walker – This job isn't as easy as it sounds. This post on Rover-Time is still a pretty good source.
  9. Drive for Uber or Lyft – If you have a car, a driver's license, and a good driving record, you can be your own boss and set your own schedule.
  10. Become a Paid Apprentice – You can get the experience and qualifications (as well certifications) to open your own business in just about any job, trade, or profession. And, you can get paid at the same time. Check out for more details.
  11. Start a Digital Marketing Agency – If you know your way around social media platforms and understand how to build a following and get attention online, starting your own digital marketing agency is a great business you can start without a high school diploma.

Should You Get a High School Diploma? 

As I mentioned earlier, the point of this article is not to discredit education or claim that you don't need one. Whether you continue with your schooling is up to you. 

For the record, I'm highly supportive of higher education, whether it's for my own kids or for society as a whole. The world needs more legitimate experts and fewer fake ones. 

If you don't have your GED or a high school diploma, your business can only benefit from getting one. In addition to learning the fundamentals, preparing and planning for a GED is excellent practice for starting a business

However, despite the need for higher education, going beyond a GED into college or university is admittedly not for everyone. A business major, or even minoring in business would certainly be helpful, but it depends on the type of business you're starting. In some cases, the time and money might not be worth it.

Today, high school graduates are bombarded with the “conventional wisdom” that a college degree is the only path to high lifetime earnings. College graduates, they point out, make more money than workers without degrees. Therefore, anxious high school students line up and worry about their SAT scores. They stress getting accepted into expensive universities and racking up multi-thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

Starting a business for many is a better alternative. Even if you don't have a high school diploma. 

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