I've been involved in network marketing for 3 years, and sales and marketing for a few months. I've only just recently discovered how bad I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to stop working for someone else's dream and start working for my own and have no idea where to start. Should I go back to school for formal business training or should I jump off the cliff and learn to fly on the way down?
I am an entrepreneur without a single degree or certification to my name. I'm certainly not anti-education (in fact, I've taught some university classes), but higher education wasn't the path I chose.
My question for you is: what type of learner are you? I learn best when I'm self-directed, studying things that fascinate me, and able to either apply or teach what I'm learning (in fact, I think teaching is one of the best ways to learn). So, I've taken ownership of my "education", and I am constantly learning. I read books and articles, listen to podcasts and other audio programs, attend conferences and events, and seek mentors and peer-learning environments.
It has worked well for me, but not everyone is built that way. Some people learn better when the education is structured for them, or when they have schedules, deadlines, and feedback (i.e. grades) on their learning.
Even for structured learning, college / university is not the only option. There are incubator / accelerator programs, entrepreneur boot camps, mentoring groups such as SCORE - some of it depends on where you are located, or whether you're willing to travel.
The bottom line is that education is not optional (especially for an entrepreneur), but there are several ways to get an education. You need to figure out what kind of learner you are to determine what path (or combination of paths) you should take.
The short answer: yes. The longer answer is that both are just as necessary and go well hand in hand. In formal education you will learn a lot of theory, not all of it applicable or applicable in the format as presented. That is where actual hands on experience comes in.
On the plus side, in formal education, you will be exposed to a lot of ideas that you may otherwise never see. You will get to experience other industries and other approaches. Businesses tend to get siloed in their scope and there is little if any cross over of best practices.
The bottom line is that you will always be learning as an entrepreneur. As a scientist and engineer, I have done startups for 20 years. For the first 10 years (and 2 startups) I had no formal business training, then I decided to go back to get my MBA in Entrepreneurship. I chose this route to get a firmer foundation on the business side as my formal education (BS Chemical Engineering, PhD Biomedical Engineering) provided very little background in business-related activities. Going this route has helped me converse in both highly technical vernacular and business-focused discussions. I work with medtech and biotech startups, so such capability is crucial.
Aside from the formal education, going back to school for business training can also provide you with other benefits such as broadening your network, access to discounts (as a student), ability to pursue many business plan competitions to jumpstart your company, and low-cost or free advice from your school and it's connections regarding everything from legal issues to business formation (depending on the school). However, you may not need such support depending on the type of business you plan to launch.
Going back to school takes commitment of both time and money which you will be taking away from launching your new venture. It's not necessary for you to go back to school, but, depending on your career goals, your learning preference (formal, hands-on, etc.), and your business concept, it could be beneficial.
As others have mentioned, you may only need to attend some local business networking meetings and take some classes through your local Small Business Administration office.
Best of luck!
I have been an entrepreneur, President of several companies, and VP of healthcare organizations and I couldn't have done much of it without my education. Education matters only to a certain point. If you are not planning on being a professor, then maybe you should just concentrate on what you love to do. Passion is the real key.