9 big differences between a Virtual Assistant and an Online Business Manager

And how to determine which one you need

Let me ask you – when you think of a virtual assistant or an online business manager, what do you envision? Most people see a person working from their own place, doing all types of admin things. And if they’re doing the same thing, they must be interchangeable, right?


My world changed recently when a client pointed out to me that I wasn’t a Virtual Assistant. I was shocked. ‘OMG, they think I’m a fake – I’m not what I say I am’.

But they continued.

Having seen my skills and the way I run not only my business, but theirs too, they told me that I was in fact, an online business manager. Hmmm, could they be right?

When I thought about it, I had been frustrated in my own business lately. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my business but some days – jeepers! I was over being compared to $5 an hour VAs, frustrated at the lack of quality I saw in hack VAs, and frustrated by a label that was so broad. I knew there had to be more.

Honestly, when my client ‘renamed’ me, my passion for business was re-ignited.

I set about exploring this further. I’d love to share with you what I’ve learnt about the differences between a virtual assistant and an online business manager.

1. Seeing the end goals

VA: Complete a set task.
OBM: Receive a task, look at the end goal, and complete the task while implementing ways to make the end to end task processes easier and more streamlined.

VAs are fantastic at being set a specific task and completing it in a timely and professional manner. Once finished they hand the completed task back to you and move on to the next task either for you, or one of their other clients.

Online business managers focus on the whole process rather than a fixed task. We learn your business processes from end to end, improving them when we can. Once the first task is complete, we go further, looking at the next step in the process, and then the next, and the next, until the whole process has been smashed out of the park, eliminating the need for the client to set each little task separately.

2. Different skillsets

VA: General admin skills and often adds in a specialist or niche skill.
OBM: General admin skills with an impeccable high-level attention to detail, the ability to think beyond instructions and work as part of a business, can lead a team, and has multiple specialist skills.

VAs generally come from administration backgrounds and have a range of administrative skills they can offer their clients. Many will also specialise and offer niche services as they value-add to clients.

OBMs have a variety of skills, including high-level management and attention to detail. We can see the bigger picture and have the skills needed to complete an entire process, going beyond simple task setting, to taking a pro-active approach. Most of us will learn specialised skills to help our clients in all areas of their business.

3. Ongoing training

VAs: Train in skills specific to their service offerings or rely on their experience. Many do some type of annual training.
OBMs: Train in skills covering all of their service offerings and update this training regularly. They will often upskill and invest more financially in training.

VAs will ensure they are trained adequately to offer their services to an appropriate standard. Training is an important aspect to VAs and industry leaders recommend they partake in at least one training course or refresher each year.

OBMs are constantly training – seriously – I am not exaggerating. Personally, I do at LEAST one form of training every week. If I don’t know how to do a task, I learn it.

I read blogs, participate in masterclasses and webinars, do mentoring, listen to podcasts, do short courses, do extensive training courses and learn how the experts do things. I keep my skills up to date, moving with technology and building on them all so that I can provide a better service to my clients.

4. Price points

VAs: Begin at $30 per hour
OBMs: Rather than focus on hourly rates, usually offer packaged rates that are outcome focused (but as a guide, they’d start at $50 per hour)

A VA entering the market and providing general admin services will begin at about $30 per hour. As they gain more experience and either specialise or define a niche they will increase their price. Some will offer packages for set tasks, offering discounts for booking multiple hours.

An OBM has usually nailed their service offering and is a pro at running a business. We have spent money on our own business, investing in training and software to run our business. We know how to add value to our client’s business. Most OBMs will offer outcome based packages to help clients run all aspects of their business. As a guide, OBMs will charge from $50 up per hour.

5. Business understanding

VAs: Have understanding from running their own business
OBMs: Have understanding from running their own business, but usually go beyond this to immerse themselves in the business world, getting to know the ins and out of their client’s businesses – or their niche industry

VAs need to be highly skilled in their chosen service area. They do the task they were contracted for and do it well. VAs look at one component of a business, it usually isn’t within their scope to look outside of that. If what they have produced is on brief and ticks all the boxes then their work is done. Saying that, they run their OWN business so they do have an understanding of the complexities of business.

OBMs not only need to be skilled in each task area, we also need to have a solid understanding of how businesses operate. It is this knowledge of all the key components that make up a business and how they all fit together that makes us different. We need to be able to anticipate how changes in one area will affect the other areas. The way that a business owner who has invested their blood sweat and tears into their business would.

6. Depth of involvement

VAs: Ankle deep
OBMs: Head under water deep (with special gills that help them breathe)

VAs are handed a task, they complete the task and hand it back. This will have limited contact and touch points with the business owner and obviously will vary depending on what the specific task is. They collect the brief and the information they need to do what they were contracted to do and just get it done. Ankle deep in the business, if you will.

OBMs are head under water deep. 

We love getting fully immersed in your business, like jumping in the deep ocean equipped with and air tank and tons of practice.

We need to have loads of contact with the business to do what we do best. The only way to fully understand a business is to regularly be involved. If we were to only be involved sporadically we would never gain a complete understanding of the operations, the culture, the vision and the objectives.

OBMs are key players in a business, dedicated and committed to see it thrive.

7. Relationships with your business

VAs: Build a relationship with the business owner
OBMs: Build a relationship with the business owner and stakeholders

VAs have a working relationship with you, the owner. Or if you found them somewhere online, they will establish a relationship with you. Their window of exposure doesn’t usually expand past this. They are the wizards behind the curtain.

OBMs develop a deeper relationship with you. We need to learn all about you, what you like, what you don’t like and the things that make you unique. As we spend a great deal of time in your business and touching base with you the relationship deepens, not only with you but with your clients and suppliers too. Remembering that an OBM is across multiple areas of your business, your contacts will get used to seeing your OBM around, will get to know them and they’ll begin to feel secure and comfortable with them.

8. Level of initiative

VAs: Use initiative within their specialty
OBMs: Focusing on processes flowing smoothly, need to use initiative and “thinking outside of the box” to keep things running

VAs use their knowledge and expertise and apply it to the one or two tasks that is within their specialty and field of vision. This usually does not require any great initiative to be taken outside of this specialty.

OBMs are all about the processes. The thing with processes is that no matter how well you have them worked out there always seems to be a break somewhere in the chain. The technology fails, someone doesn’t receive the email, the automation doesn’t do what it is meant to, a client doesn’t receive their good due a late delivery by a supplier. It is in these times that OBMs use their initiative, along with our well-founded knowledge of the business, to fix the problem.

And if everything is peachy?

We use our initiative to think these processes through and try to come up with ways they can be done even better.

9. Personal attention

VAs: Have multiple clients.
OBMs: Focus their attention on only a few chosen clients.

VAs have an extensive client base. They do smaller jobs, more often. This means they need to be able to service more clients to operate at full capacity. VA clients are those who are in the first stage of outsourcing, newer to business, looking for slow controlled growth.

OBMs have fewer clients. We choose our clients carefully, seeking those that value our dedication and fully involved style. People that we would be happy to align ourselves with (and who would be happy to align themselves with us!) as we are going to spend a lot of time with each other. OBM clients consist of those who are in the next stage of outsourcing, been in business for a while, want to dedicate their time to growth and are looking for a new key player to love and care for their business.


So, there you have it, my view of what differentiates a Virtual Assistant from an Online Business Manager. How do you choose which is right for you? Go through the list, evaluate where YOUR business is at now and where you want it to be. You should find a theme developing as you go through each point, whether a Virtual Assistant or an Online Business Manager suits you at the current stage your business is in.

Over to you

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