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Online Business Manager vs. Virtual Assistant: What’s the difference?

At the point that a business owner decides it’s time to outsource and hire some help, they’re usually ready to bring someone on like yesterday. Especially in the case of solopreneurs, they may have been doing all of the things in their businesses themselves!

Deciding to hire a Virtual Assistant or an Online Business Manager means being freed up to shift energy and focus – and cut down on the overwhelm and time-suck that can come with the inner workings and daily tasks of a business.

For a business owner, this might look like getting back to the creative, visionary aspect of their endeavor that inspired them to begin it in the first place. It might also translate to being able to focus on higher level tasks that require a business owner’s unique attention in order to continue to move their business forward and ultimately impact its financial bottom line.

Most businesses are, in some sense, a labor of love. At some point in time a creative vision was sparked, and oftentimes with much blood, sweat and tears that vision became a reality. So when it comes to finding the right someone to come alongside and support that vision, a quality, trustworthy team member is highly important.

In our experience, once someone is ready to hire out for some help it can also bring a whole new kind of overwhelm, though. Before finding that great new team member to connect with and bring in, there are some things to understand to help streamline the search. In this post, our goal is to help cut down on the potential overwhelm regarding where to start when it comes to outsourcing for quality help.

Does your business need a Virtual Assistant or Online Business Manager?

The first step in making the process of finding great-fit, quality help as stress-free as possible is understanding what to look for. Freelancers can, in reality, give themselves any title they choose. And while that flexibility exists, there are some “industry standards” when it comes to describing what it is one actually does. 

The terms Virtual Assistant and Online Business Manager are fairly common, for example. There is certainly some overlap between the two, as we’ll cover shortly, but they do ultimately encompass different roles and responsibilities. And for a business owner, understanding the differing roles between the two helps narrow the search and speed up the hiring process.

So what exactly is the difference between a Virtual Assistant and an Online Business Manager? To answer that question, first let’s understand what an Online Business Manager is.

Online Business Manager vs. Virtual Assistant: What's the Difference?

What is an Online Business Manager?

In understanding what exactly an Online Business Manager is (OBM for future reference), the first place to start is to focus on the word manager as that’s the primary role of an OBM.

What kinds of management roles are there for an OBM?

All businesses are unique – they provide different products and services, serve different industries and niches and are consequently structured in ways that best facilitate those (ideally). And because they’re all unique, businesses have different components that require management.

According to the folks over at OnlineBusinessManager.com, for an OBM this can translate to overseeing things like:

Project Management 

Virtual project management involves coming up with plans to execute ideas, delegating the necessary action items to the right individuals and overseeing the moving parts of a project to ensure successful completion. 

Operations Management 

This aspect of an OBM’s role focuses on the inner workings of a business and streamlining processes. This could involve creating and putting processes in place for a business’s daily workings and/or for bigger-picture aspects of functioning as well as implementing automation.

Metrics Management 

Understanding what’s working, and what isn’t, are crucial aspects of a business’s success. For a business manager, metrics management means tracking and reporting on the numbers associated with a business’s success, whether it’s direct sales, daily subscribers, conversions, etc. Most often it also means making suggestions and implementing ideas to impact those numbers for growth.

People Management 

An OBM often also acts in the role of delegate, including overseeing teams, assigning tasks appropriately and facilitating a team’s movement toward a business’s goals.


These areas of focus for a business manager can certainly overlap, and the bigger theme here is the oversight of various aspects of a business’s inner workings.

Regardless of the focus or type of management, most often an OBM is in charge of overseeing other individuals and teams. As well, an OBM typically acts as a liaison between a team and a business owner, providing updates and reports and implementing any feedback or new ideas.

Lastly, an OBM can also operate in the role of consultant. Because of the nature of a higher-level view of a business’s functioning, business managers are in the unique position to objectively see the bigger picture and make suggestions about how to improve processes and operations.

So now that we understand what an OBM is and the kinds of roles one can play, let’s take a look at the difference between an OBM and a Virtual Assistant.

How Is an OBM Different From a VA?

Let’s start with our definition of a Virtual Assistant. We like to say that it’s:

  1. Anyone who provides a service
  2. In exchange for pay
  3. From afar

Because there are a ton of businesses out there with lots of different needs, this creates a pretty massive opportunity when it comes to deciding what services to offer as a VA. It also means that there’s a lot of room for interpretation regarding what a Virtual Assistant’s business looks like, including how specialized they are in their services and what kinds of businesses they work with.


Oftentimes newer VAs are stepping in and carrying out tasks that are assigned to them. As a Virtual Assistant becomes more seasoned, however, it’s common (and ideal) to progress from that role to also functioning in the capacity of a consultant.

And, when it comes to the difference between a VA and an OBM that’s the largest delineating factor – doing tasks versus managing tasks.

While the two roles can certainly overlap, as we’ve just discussed an OBM is looking at the bigger picture of a business and ensuring that the moving parts are functioning in harmony. A VA’s role most often involves actually doing the tasks that move that bigger picture forward.

If you want to understand more about what an OBM does, this free OBM starter kit is a great place to learn more, and you may also want to check out this free OBM SOP template. And if you really want to dive into the world of being an OBM, you can even book a one-on-one call with OBM School’s founder, Sarah Noked.

Below you’ll find a video with Sarah explaining the difference between an OBM and Virtual Assistant…

Client load and payment methods for OBMs vs. VAs

It can be a natural progression to start off providing services under the umbrella of Virtual Assistant and evolve to an OBM over time. The rate of pay is often higher for OBMs, particularly as they’re typically coming to the table with more business experience. A Virtual Assistant, on the other hand, can enter the marketplace as a complete beginner with zero experience and do quite well building a successful business.

An OBM also often works with fewer clients whose businesses they can really focus on.
For example, it’s not uncommon for a Virtual Assistant to have five to ten clients, whereas an online manager may only work with one to three clients at a time.

And lastly, while VAs can (and do!) certainly charge package and retainer Virtual Assistant rates, it’s also common to bill at an hourly rate, particularly for newer Virtual Assistants. OBMs, on the other hand, typically charge a monthly retainer rate.

In summary, an OBM would most often function in the role of overseeing a Virtual Assistant. To think of it visually, in the “flow” of things this would put a business owner at the top, with an OBM directly underneath followed by a team – potentially including a VA.


Is an OBM the Same Thing as an Integrator?

In their search for quality help, it’s likely that a business owner could come across yet another title for an online manager – an integrator. What is that?

A business owner ideally functions as the visionary for their endeavor. An integrator can be thought of as a right-hand man or woman who is responsible for bringing that vision to fruition. 

In this sense, an integrator operates in a larger capacity than an OBM in that they’re responsible for the complete oversight of daily operations and all aspects of a business’s functioning. The result is that a business owner is completely freed up to tend to the creative and visionary aspect of their business by being pulled out of its day-to-day operations.

Sound familiar? That’s because there is certainly overlap between the role of an OBM and an integrator. Like an OBM who focuses on operations management, part of an integrator’s role is to implement automations to improve and streamline processes, for example.

An OBM, however, tends to be more marketing-focused and client-facing, while an integrator is typically in a position of leadership regarding all of the aspects of a business’s functioning.

So is an OBM the same as an integrator? Not exactly. An integrator could be considered a more specialized, higher-level niche of the OBM world. For a more thorough deep-dive into the world of an integrator, check out the Rocket Fuel Academy

What Should I Look for When Hiring an OBM?

Whether it’s hiring a Virtual Assistant or an OBM, there are two things we think are really important when it comes to outsourcing for help – trust and connection.

As we discussed, bringing someone in to help carry out the necessary tasks of a business involves a level of trust in their ability to do things accurately and efficiently. Ideally, that also involves a sense that that individual cares about a business and its success.

The best client-VA/OBM relationships, in our experience, are cases in which there is a level of personal connection that a trusting, synergistic working relationship can thrive in. And, while it can be difficult (especially the first time) to hand over tasks and processes to someone else it’s important that it be to someone who’s deemed trustworthy and who “gets it.”


Traits that make for a quality OBM

Aside from a good sense of the integrity someone brings to the table, there are also some other character traits to look for when hiring an OBM.

Side note: We also think that these are traits that make for an excellent VA!

#1. Organized – It kind of goes without saying, but a crucial aspect of overseeing the functioning of a business from an online management viewpoint is being highly organized. Again, an OBM typically oversees lots of moving parts and needs to be able to access and implement those efficiently.

#2. Open to learning – While an OBM is typically more seasoned in the ways of business and operations, as we mentioned every business is unique. For that reason, it’s important to be open (and excited about) learning about a business and even perhaps new tools and resources that are unique to its functioning.

#3. Takes initiative – An OBM operates in conjunction with a business owner’s vision and requests, and at the same time needs to be confident enough to proceed with what needs to be done without lots of direction. While there’s a dynamic of consultation as we’ve discussed, and the business owner always has the “final say,” they’re also trusting that an OBM can make sound decisions to move their businesses forward.

#4. Communicative – An OBM does not typically operate in a silo. Meaning that, by their very nature they’re delegating and overseeing, and that means they need to have excellent communication skills.

When it comes to managing teams, that communication needs to be clear and concise while also keeping people motivated and encouraged to carry out tasks. And when it comes to communicating with business owners, that communication also needs to be clear and concise, while streamlining necessary information so as not to overwhelm.

#5. Has a “can do,” positive attitude – In keeping with great, professional communication skills, an OBM’s attitude should inspire trust and confidence for both the business owner and the team they may be overseeing. Having an upbeat, “let’s do this” kind of attitude is motivating to others and translates to great energy for a business’s progress and growth.

#6. Able to make decisions quickly – This trait goes hand-in-hand with taking initiative, and also touches in on a core aspect of great management, being able to think on one’s feet. In the context of managing lots of moving parts, being able to make decisions quickly and efficiently is crucial for an online manager!

Ready to Find Your Best-Fit VA or OBM?

As a business owner, you may or may not be ready to hire a Virtual Assistant or an OBM, but hopefully you now have a clear idea of which will best suit your needs at this time. A Virtual Assistant who can carry out tasks efficiently may be what you’re looking for, or perhaps an OBM in a higher-level management capacity is a better fit.

There are certainly some misconceptions about Virtual Assistants, such as being synonymous with “cheap labor” (totally not accurate btw!). Keep in mind that as with anything in life, you get what you pay for and that in either the case of a VA or an OBM your primary goal should be finding the right, quality individual who takes pride in their work.

We’ve seen countless VA-client relationships that have evolved from the carrying out of assigned tasks to more of an OBM, consultant-type relationship. As you bring a VA into your business and invest your energy and time in them, you are both in a unique position to develop a great, long-term working relationship.

Aside from yourself, that Virtual Assistant can end up being the person who knows the most about your business – and who cares about it as much as you do. Therefore he or she can be a natural fit when it comes to growing into the role of an OBM. And, whether your needs would best be met by a VA or an OBM at this time, we can connect you (at no cost to you or your chosen hire!) with an excellent pool of candidates to choose from.

Ready to hire a kickass VA or OBM? Check out our free VA Finder Service and let’s do this!

Laura Nicholls


Laura manages the VA Leads Community, the blog and does a ton of other things for Horkey HandBook behind the curtain! She’s also an alum of both 30 Days or Less courses (VA and freelance writing!). She started off as a writer and branched out into building her VA business focusing on executive management and content creation. Laura is in love with her life in Northern California taking care of horses and being full-time single mom to her daughter.

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