What’s The Difference Between a VA and an OBM?

Just what we needed in the world, right? More acronyms! Let’s talk about the differences between a VA (virtual assistant) and an OBM (online business manager) so that you can understand what kind of help it is that you need.

Many OBMs started out as VAs and many VAs do a lot of OBM work. Sometimes the difference is just in what kind of work we enjoy doing most and where we prefer to focus our time and energy.

Doers vs Strategists

VAs love to take on tasks! They are the “get-it-done” people you want in your corner! There are all kinds of VAs who specialize in many different things. These “specialized VAs” tend to earn more because they know the value of their skills — and so does the marketplace.

OBMs are more like strategic overseers. We plot the strategy that brings your big dream into fruition including all of the many details you might consider and even more of the ones that might not occur to you until you have what I call an “oopsy” moment.

VAs and OBMs Have Different Passions…

As a VA, I love to take a to-do list for a client and watch it diminish one by one. Doing tasks and finagling tech make my heart sing. It’s one of the ways I can help the helpers. I love tech things and the puzzle of making it all work together as it should. (It frequently requires a little bit of finessing!) The client’s faces when I tell them that whatever “the thing” is that wasn’t working now is working great… well, that’s just like getting a Christmas bonus. Most VAs that I know feel like that.

As my business has evolved into business management, my very favorite thing — my own professional bliss — is getting on a strategy call with a client. There is nothing like hearing the client’s vision and almost immediately picturing in my mind what it will take to make that happen from a big-picture point of view right down to assigning tasks to team members. It is such a delight to see my clients when they realize their dream isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s a very real — and likely — possibility! Most of my time these days is spent doing this kind of work while my team of amazing VAs knocks out the task list.

… and Different Areas of Expertise

Most VAs charge an hourly rate or have a monthly retainer. They can take on as many as 10-20 clients depending on the services being provided. Some tech VAs only specialize in a couple of tech stacks because of the amount of time they invest in continuing their education. Other tech VAs seem to grasp the tech intuitively and are jacks (and jills!) of all kinds of tech. Highly specialized VAs, such as copywriting VAs, for example, can (and do!) charge as much as OBMs and more. Whether you choose to use a VA from another country is a matter of personal ethics, but please pay them fairly. Whatever country they’re in, they work hard to keep their skills up to date.

As an OBM, on routine, non-launch months for any given client, my work load might be somewhat static. At that point, the client is paying me to keep things running smoothly including social media strategy, email marketing, content marketing, website and its maintenance, and any random tasks that come up. (There are always random tasks!)

Once we enter into launch mode, my client and I kick into high gear. There’s the strategy of the actual launch, the marketing around it which could include social media, email marketing, and other avenues. There’s the tech that needs to be set up, checked, and double checked. This requires an OBM to be flexible as things do change a lot during the course of a launch.

Some OBMs get a salary plus a percentage of the profits. Others get paid a set retainer every month with the understanding that some months are light work months and other months are going to go like gangbusters.

I have worked with most of my clients for more than a year and only selectively take on new clients. I have learned (the hard way, I’m sorry to say!) that more than two launches at the same time is a no-go and if an oncoming client is planning a launch in the same timeline as others, I often refer them to other OBMs if their launch is set in stone. Both my current clients and the potential new client deserve undivided attention. If I can’t give it, I don’t sign them!

Tools and Numbers

VAs don’t receive nearly enough recognition! Most are proficient in so much tech that you just can’t even imagine. They keep up with the latest updates on popular software, best practices for whatever their specialty happens to be, and so much more. (And, yes, VAs specialize!) My regular team of VAs include a data analyst, an incredible VA who specializes in writing beautiful blog posts and emails, and our newest member who right now is turning out social media graphics that are incredible!

OBMs can work for clients at virtually any level of business. The traditional wisdom is that OBMs are only necessary after you hit about $500,000 in revenue. Not true. There are OBMs who are happy to work with and for clients who are in an in-between place on the start-to-scale continuum.

OBMs need to have an understanding of the numbers that swirl around a business. KPIs, OKRs, metrics, leading vs lagging indicators — sound like a foreign language? That’s okay — if you have someone who understands them and can help you keep the ship sailing in the right direction!!

As OBMs, we almost have to know more than our clients to properly manage their business, because we’re providing the strategy and guiding them along every step of their journey to success.

Both VAs and OBMs are dedicated to seeing our clients succeed. When you do well, it thrills us. We are putting ripples into the world — good ripples that can help people.

Wondering if you need an OBM? Download my free article!

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