How I Became A Successful Entrepreneur Without A College Degree

College isn't a prerequisite for success. I started as an entry-level receptionist and rose through the ranks quickly, becoming a business owner by age 25.

Photo: Nicole Smartt, Owner of Star Staffing; Credit: Courtesy Photo

College doesn’t always dictate future success. Whether you attend or not, you can be successful—it’s about what you bring with you. While a college education can produce many positive outcomes, it doesn’t mean you’ll never be successful without a degree. I’m living proof that this myth is wrong.

I’m proud to say I only have a high school diploma. While I worked harder than most to get where I am, I wouldn’t change my chosen path. I started as an entry-level receptionist and rose through the ranks quickly, becoming a business owner by age 25. Yes, that’s less than seven years from graduating high school.

In addition, my company was recently acknowledged by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. I’ve been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. How’s that for success without a degree?

Here are some tips to help you achieve success in your career with or without a degree.


1. Outwork everyone

I mean everyone. It will most likely require more than 40 hours a week for stretches of time, but your hard work and long hours will show your dedication. A strong work ethic also puts you on the fast track to becoming an expert in your field.

Management will see your willingness to work until it is done (not just until the end of working hours) as true evidence that you have what it takes to handle more responsibility. This means you’ll soon be trusted with more important work. This approach will help you move u0p the ladder quickly. Nothing beats hard work!


2. Network ’till you don’t have to introduce yourself

Connect with people both in and out of your field. You never know the potential of your next connection. It’s not just about being recognized, it’s about being recognized for your work. The reputation that builds up around your work, attitude and contacts will help to grow your network.

It can help, too, to become a super-connector. Don’t just collect connections. Connect your connections. Everyone has unique skills and experiences. Leverage your network to help others connect, learn and grow. Bonus: that road goes both ways. People in your network will think of you in situations where your specialties would be useful.


3. Never stop learning

Make an effort to get better at what you do by expanding your capacity to learn. You’ll hone the skills you have and learn new ones. This also helps to keep your brain flexible, which is essential for problem-solving and process improvement. Read books and articles, watch videos online, take hands-on classes or virtual ones. Bottom line: keep learning.


4. Add value outside your job description

One of the fastest ways up the ranks is to show you are capable of doing more. Start asking for more tasks in the position you want. Make sure your current tasks are complete and that your work is high-quality. If you can prove over time that you are willing and capable of doing more than what your current position asks of you, you’ll rise to the next position, and the next, because you keep proving that you can (and that you want to!)


5. Maximize your free time

Skip the TV and replace it with learning, growing and visualizing. Spend your time wisely; it is one of the best things you can do for yourself. This doesn’t mean you should become a learning machine; You still need balance. Instead of sitting in front of the television for a couple of hours, read an article or watch a video demonstration. Get creative through artistic or musical pursuits.


If you don’t have a degree, know that you need to start somewhere. Take an entry-level position, conquer it, and make strides towards your next benchmark. Remember, you may need to work harder than everyone to prove yourself, but trust me, time well-spent will always pay off.


This article has been edited.

Nicole Smartt is the owner of Star Staffing. She is the youngest recipient to be awarded the Forty Under 40 award, recognizing business leaders under the age of 40. Her book, From Receptionist to Boss: Real-Life Advice for Getting Ahead at Work, can be pre-ordered on her website at www.nicolesmartt.com. Connect with @Nicole_Smartt on Twitter.


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