What’s the Difference Between a VA, an OBM, and a PM?

Have you heard about Virtual Assistants, Online Business Managers, and Project Managers and wondered, what the heck do all these people do anyway?

There’s an amazing virtual world out there, but it can also be confusing! Massive portions of the population are transitioning to working entirely online, but you might not understand exactly who is doing what. Three of the most common job titles for remote workers are:

  • Virtual Assistant (VA)
  • Online Business Manager (OBM)
  • Project Manager (PM)

So I’m here to explain what the difference is between them.

Virtual Assistant

A VA is most like a traditional administrative assistant, but working in a non-traditional way. The only difference is, rather than being in the office with you, they work remotely, which is perfect if you’re a solopreneur who also works from home.

This is the person who kind of takes on the grunt work of your business. They’re the Jack/Jill-of-all-trades you’ve heard so much about and are responsible for all sorts of the recurring tasks that are part of running your business; all the stuff that bogs you down but needs to get done.

While some VAs can specialize in certain areas, many of them are generalists who can handle a wide variety of tasks including email management, research, scheduling and calendar management, handling remote calls, social media engagement, content creation, and more.

Think of VAs as hired guns! They’re especially great at handling repetitive, time-consuming tasks that aren’t a good use of your time but need to get done. You can get all that busy work off your plate by handing it off to a VA so that you can instead focus on the big picture of your business.

By the way, a Virtual Assistant tends to be less expensive to hire than an Online Business Manager or a Project Manager, though rates can vary widely depending on their level of experience and expertise. Working with a Virtual Assistant is can be an amazing investment that propels your business to the next level, and I think every solopreneur should take the plunge to partner with a VA at some point as they grow their business.

Online Business Manager

Like a Virtual Assistant, an Online Business Manager works remotely, but with a much more extensive array of responsibilities and ownership. I like the word ownership because I think it captures just how much you can rely on an OBM, to make sure that your business is operating smoothly on a higher level.

OBMs are big-picture thinkers and know how to take your vision and develop a plan for how to get there. They typically take on the responsibility of planning and team management while delegating most of the actual tasks to other team members. They’re the overseers. Making sure everything gets done and fits into the overall plan, but are ready to jump in to get the job done when need.

For example, as an OBM, I might work with you to develop a strategy for launching the course you just created, figuring out what needs to get done to make the course ready, planning out the landing pages, emails, and tagging structure, etc. and detailing out who needs to do what when in order to complete the launch stages smoothly. I would then delegate the tasks to the rest of your team and fill in any gaps by handling some tasks myself as needed. I would also monitor the progress and make sure that all of the steps are executed along the way.

It takes a certain kind of visionary and “get shit done” attitude to become an OBM. Some Online Business Managers might help you set the direction of your business, developing strategies for moving things forward and actually implementing those strategies for you, so you don’t have to. They aren’t necessarily responsible for every individual task, but for the overall coordination of the project. They make sure that shit gets done.

Working with an Online Business Manager is usually more of an investment than engaging a Virtual Assistant, but they bring with them so much leadership, skill, experience, and reliability, that you would never doubt for a second the incredible value they’re bringing to your projects.  

Project Manager

If you have a specific large project in mind, or many client projects to coordinate, then hiring a Project Manager might be the best way to stay on track.

A Project Manager, like a VA or OBM, can work remotely, directing all of the tasks that will contribute to completing a project. Their responsibilities include setting a critical path, hitting project milestones, keeping everyone on schedule, assigning individual tasks, and eventually delivering your desired results.

Let’s say that you need to hold a conference for experts in your industry scheduled to take place in eight months. Or maybe you have five big client projects that overlap and you need to make sure you stay on track. In both of these instances, it might be a good idea to hire a PM to oversee the entire process for the duration of the project(s).

Project Managers are often highly-specialized and possess an expert skill set that can demand a higher investment. But boy is the peace of mind worth it knowing that your complicated and high stakes project or client projects are in the hands of a professional!

What Kind of Help Do You Need?

Figuring what role to hire for can be tricky as sometimes they overlap, and these are only three of the myriad of types of Virtual Assistants out there. So before you decide to hire anyone, take a good look at your business goals and what’s currently holding you back.

If you the big thing holding you back is time. You need to get a few things off your plate so you can do some business or professional development, take on more clients, or implement a plan – then grab yourself a good ‘ol General VA. Just know that you’ll likely still need to manage their work and provide direction about what needs to be done. Especially if you’re aiming for the lower end of the pay scale.

If you want them to handle your email marketing, for example, you’ll need to provide them with the schedule, the content, and direction on formatting, etc. whereas an Online Business Manager, or even a higher skilled VA, might be the one to come up with the overall email strategy and also execute it.

While VAs focus on individual tasks, an OBM focuses more on the big picture. They can do individual tasks if necessary, but that can be a waste of their talents. The best thing about an OBM is that you don’t need to be looking over their shoulder all the time to make sure they’re doing what you want. In fact, they might be the one looking over your shoulder and keeping you on track.

Finding a great OBM can be trickier than finding a VA. Rather than having multiple clients, an Online Business Manager often only works with just a handful of clients at a time, as the job can be time-consuming and requires their full focus.

An OBM can also do some project management work, but depending on the scope of the project, outsourcing that kind of job to a specialist is often a better use of your funds. That’s when a pro Project Manager can be a lifesaver.

PMs have a laserlike focus on a single, large-scale project (or multiple mid-scale projects). Like an OBM, they can coordinate your vision but only regarding those specific projects. In this way, they might have to work with your OBM to make sure that resources are allocated accordingly or they might have tasks to give your VA.

Someone You Can Rely On & Trust

Regardless if you’re hiring a VA, OBM, or a PM, you should get to know them before you dive in too deep and make a hire. It can be tricky to vet someone over the internet, but that makes it even more critical that you do your homework. I do believe in gut instincts BUT you should still back that up by doing your research on them. You’ll be working very closely with this person and entrusting them with vital tasks and information, so you’ve got to find out if your energies will synergize.

Finding someone you can really trust is essential to a productive working relationship. With my clients, I work hard to maximize our communications to make sure we’re in-sync on projects, both big and small, not to mention sharing the same overall vision and direction for the business. When you’re hiring your VA, OBM, or PM, be sure you find someone who can offer that same level of access and trust. Once you find the right person, they can help transform your already amazing business into something even better!

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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