Virtual Assistants and Online Business Managers: What’s the difference?

Outsourcing and Management

Need to grow your team before you can move forward? This post breaks down the differences between virtual assistants and online business managers.

Both are a flexible, low-risk option for business owners who need an extra pair of hands but don’t want to take on an employee.

A virtual assistant or online business manager could help you to:

  • Grow your business and add new products/services
  • Serve more people and increase earnings
  • Develop your brand and build more trust and loyalty
  • Tighten up systems and processes to provide your clients with a positive, memorable experience
  • Invest time into your own development as a leader and/or creative

So where should you start? And what type of support should you invest in?


What do Virtual Assistants and Online Business Managers do?


Virtual assistants (VAs) and online business managers (OBMs) are both service providers who usually work on a freelance basis.

They are often confused or grouped together, probably because some experienced VAs will develop their services and go on to offer OBM support.

An OBM is much more than just a great VA, however. They offer a different set of services and their skills and priorities will differ, too.

Here’s a comparison:

Where a virtual assistant is task-focused, an online business manager will handle planning and strategy.

VAs require direction and will rely on the business owner to drive growth and make key decisions.

An online business manager will work independently, using their initiative to develop the business. An OBM can also manage a team, taking responsibility for things like delegation, project management, and communication.

Because of the nature of the work, online business managers tend to do more hours for fewer clients. Where a VA might need a generous handful of clients to keep their business running, an OBM might work with just a couple of clients on larger retainers.


What is an online business manager responsible for?


The job description and associated tasks of an online business manager can vary depending on:

  • Their own skills, experience, and preferences
  • The type of business and what’s involved
  • The business owners’ skills, experience, and preferences
  • The stage the business is at and what the current goals are
  • The other team members (if there are any) and what they’re responsible for

Typically, though, an online business manager might handle things like:

  • Conducting weekly team meetings
  • Holding regular meetings with the business owner to plan and review
  • Supporting, motivating, and delegating to the team
  • Project management
  • Operations management (systems, workflows, client and partner relations)
  • Updating business documents and guidelines

In an established online business, a team with an OBM might look something like this:

Related: What is an online business manager and do you need one?


What is a virtual assistant responsible for?


Virtual assistants come in all shapes and sizes. The services or types of support they offer will depend on their own experience, skills, and preferences.

It’s not unusual to see VAs that specialise in one thing, like finance admin, for example. Others will offer more general and widespread support, taking on a variety of administrative tasks depending on the needs of each client.

Typical or common tasks that business owners delegate to virtual assistants include:

  • Date entry
  • CRM management
  • Reporting
  • Recording expenses
  • Invoicing
  • Reconciling
  • Inbox management
  • Diary management
  • Travel bookings
  • Blog uploads
  • Social media scheduling
  • Proofreading
  • Event planning/coordination


Related: Your complete guide to hiring a virtual assistant


How can I benefit from hiring a VA or OBM?


Virtual assistants and online business managers provide low-risk support for business owners who don’t want to commit to an employee.

You won’t need to provide equipment, an office space, employee benefits, or even a job description.

It’s a flexible option that can be tailored to meet the needs of your business as it grows and changes. When you take on a VA or OBM, you’re not hiring for a single role, you’re bringing in an adaptable, independent professional.

And VAs and OBMs are self-employed themselves, so they understand the ins and outs of running a business, and they’ll bring those skills and experiences with them.

On top of the time, energy, and resources you’ll save, you can also expect some additional benefits.


The benefits of online business managers


Some online business managers also have their own teams, which means working relationships, communication channels, and processes will already be established.

At The Assistant Quarters, for example, our founder Claire (who offers online business management) has built a growing team of virtual assistants and OBMs.

As your business grows and new opportunities arise, Claire could call on her team to get you the support you need.

Some online business managers (Claire included), will also act as an informal coach, using their own experiences, lessons and training to guide their clients.

Beyond this, an established and well-connected online business manager will have their own little black book of contacts. If you need further support or you’re looking to make new connections, an OBM could help.


The benefits of virtual assistants

You’ll get the most out of your virtual assistant when you learn how to delegate effectively.

Because a VA will usually rely on you to assign them tasks and oversee their work, your own ability to prioritise and communicate will affect the outcome.


Related: How to build and manage a virtual team successfully


What should I look for in an online business manager or virtual assistant?


In both cases, consider your own skills and your skill gaps. A good fit will be someone who fills in your blanks or has skills that complement your own.

Do you need an industry-specific VA or OBM? If your business is complex or there’s a lot of jargon, policy, or legalities around your work, you might find it beneficial to hire someone with relevant and robust experience.

Next, think about all the systems and tools you use to run your business. You’ll get off to a quicker start if you find someone with experience using the same software.

Finally, personality. You can train for skills, but attitude is in-built.

Just as you would if you were hiring in-house, think carefully about the culture, community, and team spirit in your business. What sort of personality or traits are you looking for?


Online business manager key skills


An online business manager should have a background in leadership and project management.

You need someone who shows initiative, can work independently, make decisions, and communicate effectively.

Beyond that, consider the key responsibilities you’d hand over to an online business manager. What would they need to be capable of? What skills would they need to demonstrate?


Virtual assistant key skills


Beyond the specific skills you’ll need your virtual assistant to possess, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they experienced?
  • Can they adapt quickly?
  • Do they have strong communication skills?
  • Are they reliable?
  • Do they take data protection seriously?
  • Are they proactive?

Find out more: 6 vital qualities to look for in a virtual assistant


How do the costs compare?


Rates and packages vary, and the type and level of support you’re looking for will affect how much you pay.

There are three common ways of pricing these types of service:

  • A fixed project fee
  • A monthly retainer
  • An hourly rate


Online business manager rates


Because it’s a relatively new industry, there’s no definitive guide or industry comparisons around how much OBMs charge. Our own research tells us that hourly rates start from around £50 and can increase up to £120 or more, for a highly-skilled and experienced OBM.

Retainer packages typically start from around £600 per month up to (and beyond) £3000 as responsibilities increase.

Our own online business management package starts at £1000 per month. The service will be totally unique to you, but you can find out more about what that package could include here.


Virtual assistant rates


The cost of a virtual assistant in the UK can be anywhere from £15 – £50+ per hour. Job boards like Fiver or Upwork will throw up some cheaper options, but beware: you get what you pay for. You may also see cheaper options on offer from VAs outside of the UK but again, they might sound good on paper, but we recommend considering them with caution. They may not have robust businesses behind them e.g. no business insurance. They may also need more direction or support so in terms of ROI, you may find it better to pay more, with the reassurance that your VA can work more independantly and proactively by drawing on their skills and experience of UK small businesses.

If you’re looking for an experienced and reliable UK candidate, you can expect to pay at least £25 per hour.


Key takeaways:


  • An online business manager provides a higher level of service than a VA. They take on more responsibility, including planning, strategy, and team management.
  • OBM rates vary, but you can expect to pay at least £50 an hour up to £120 or more. Retainer packages typically start from around £600 per month up to £3000 or more.
  • Costs for a virtual assistant vary too. You’ll be looking at £25 per hour minimum for quality, UK-based support, with prices rising to £50+ with skills and experience.

Want to chat about your options?

Growing your team (even virtually and with a relatively low-level of commitment), is a big step. We want you to feel confident and reassured from the very beginning, and that’s why we offer a free 30-minute consultation.

Still not sure whether a virtual assistant or online business manager is right for you?

Book in for a discovery call to chat about your options.

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