Abstract: Accounting Plug-Ins and Virtual Firms: A Brief History of Business Plan Guidebooks in the United States, 1970-2010
Business plans have been omnipresent in the world of entrepreneurship—if not beyond—since the early 1980s. The rapid emergence and survival of this market device on the market for entrepreneurial finance, over a period when business and economic planning have undergone harsh critiques, is a paradox that this paper aims to explain. Thanks to the qualitative, longitudinal study of a rich corpus of business plan guidebooks published in English since 1970, we show that business plans may first be considered as financial virtualities, thanks to which market actors—that is, entrepreneurs and their funders—are able to coordinate and eventually agree on a business venture. But we also demonstrate that, designed to act as performative management devices, they are also meant to help entrepreneurs turn their projects into reality. Because according to business planning norms a good plan is a pre-realized plan, the business plan indeed appears less as a predefined constraint on entrepreneurial action than as a driver of entrepreneurial work. This ability of the business plan to accompany and even foster action rather than frame it explains its proliferation in liberal economies.