VA vs. OBM, What’s the Difference?

by | Sep 1, 2022 | 0 comments

If you’ve been around Digital Nomad Kit for a while, you’ve probably heard my definition of what a Virtual Assistant is. “A Virtual Assistant is someone who assists people virtually.” Such a broad definition opens up an expansive range of services you can provide to your clients, leaving plenty of room for creativity and individuality in this diverse field of work.

Each year more entrepreneurs and businesses are hiring Virtual Assistants to outsource tasks necessary for their continuation and growth. In recent years, another service provider has gained recognition and demand.

Enter the “Online Business Manager,” or OBM for short. If this term is new to you or you’re eager to learn more about, keep reading because I’ll be breaking down all the details of what makes an OBM tick!


An OBM, by my previous definition, is technically a kind of virtual assistant. However, this title helps those hiring to distinguish among that expansive pool of virtual assistants to find someone who will fill a crucial role in their business. But how do they differ? 

Despite all the similarities they may share, the difference is all in the name. One is assisting a business, and the other is managing it.

Virtual Assistants are doers. These skilled, task-oriented workers take on specific projects with predictable results and deliverables pre-negotiated with the client. Laser-focused on their field of genius, they’re meeting deadlines and clearing to-do lists.

OBMs, on the other hand, are stepping in at a managerial position, with a high emphasis on strategy and looking at the big picture. As a result, an OBM will do far more delegating than the action-taking VA, overseeing and systemizing workflows to ensure deadlines and goals are met.

For quality customer experience, I always recommend that VAs clearly understand the businesses and values of the clients they serve. But an OBM takes that understanding to the highest level. Operating as their client’s righthand person, they have to know their client’s business inside and out to assess its needs better and implement growth strategies.


    With a strong core in administrative skills, OBMs become an integral part of a business, ensuring that it runs like a well-oiled machine. The bigger the business and the larger the teams, the more essential it is to have an OBM working behind the scenes bringing order to chaos. 

    Well-organized, detail-oriented, and a lover of systems and structure, future planning is second nature to an OBM. Always thinking several steps ahead, an OBM can be given a general idea or goal and break it down into an actionable plan that gets you across the finish line. 

    The four overarching categories of an OBMs skillset are Project Management, Team Management, Operations Management, and Metrics Management. Combined, these fields can entail a lot, so the ability to prioritize and work efficiently is crucial.

    Here are just a few of the typical duties you can expect as an OBM: 

    • Creating SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)
    • Hiring contractors or employees 
    • Streamlining the onboarding of teammates or clients
    • Facilitating team meetings
    • Sourcing the best tools to systemize operations
    • Analyzing data to track project growth
    • Executing actionable strategies to meet business goals
    • Invoicing, billing and finance strategizing 
    • Building efficient and sustainable workflows 
    • Communicating as the liaison between client and team
    • Scheduling and assigning tasks to team members
    • Problem-solving, backup planning, and crisis management 

    Psst! If this isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry. Instead, check out this blog detailing 100+ services you can provide as a Virtual Assistant.


    The short answer; No, you can train to become an OBM right out of the gate, but being an established VA first certainly helps. 

    OBMs need to have an expansive view of their client’s business and the ability to evaluate where more structure is necessary and which tools will get the job done. Jumping into this field right away is possible, especially if you already have existing business knowledge, but starting as a VA is highly beneficial as you’ll have a deeper understanding of intricacies that can make all the difference in separating the beginners from the pros. 

    Starting as a VA is such a strong foundation that many VAs working with their clients long-term have unknowingly stepped into an OBM role as they tackle more of their client’s needs. 


    Take a good look at the skills you offer as a VA. For example, if your strengths are in the creative field of virtual assistance, such as web and graphic design or copywriting, and you’re passionate about this type of work, being an OBM might not be your calling. But if your skills and passions align with administration, management, and strategy, it could be worthwhile to polish those skills and take your career to the next level as an OBM.

    Not to say that you can’t transition to the OBM field no matter what services you’re currently providing, because you certainly can. However, some areas may involve a steeper learning curve.

    Many Virtual Assistants choose to upscale to an OBM position, often for the appeal of higher starting rates. Still, this role also has increased responsibilities that shouldn’t be overlooked. So let’s weigh some pros and cons.


    • Playing a crucial role in the growth and success of someone else’s business.
    • As a specialist, OBMs generally have higher starting rates, often opting for value-based pricing as opposed to hourly.
    • Supervising and orchestrating activities allow you to be all-in while still being hands-off.
    • Creative from a managerial, solution finding, big picture perspective. 


    • Playing a crucial role in the growth and success of someone else’s business. Yep, this could be viewed as a con as well.
    • Somewhat less flexibility in your daily life due to the more structured nature of this career path.
    • If you’re not good under pressure, disorganized, lack strong communication skills, or have trouble setting boundaries, OBM life could prove stressful.
    • Less creative and hands on when it comes to doing specific tasks you enjoy and being able to pivot with ease.

    If this path feels right for you as an experienced VA, I invite you to learn from the very best. My good friend Sarah Noked has a fantastic (free) OBM Starter Kit where you can learn the ins and outs. Visit here to sign up! 


    If you’re reading this as a business owner and wondering who you should hire to support your business, know that it depends significantly on your business’s size and current phase. You may require one, both, or neither.

    Are there specific tasks that are eating up valuable time? Like managing your inbox, customer service, creating graphics for your social media channels, or keeping your calendar up to date? You’re most likely in need of a Virtual Assistant.

    Are you overwhelmed with the need for more tracking and operation systems but have no time to implement them? If you already have a team working for you but are too busy to ensure everyone is on track and meeting target goals, an OBM may be just what you need.

    We are proud to say that our DNK-certified Virtual Assistants (and VAs-turned-OBMs) are among the most well-acclaimed on the internet. So if you’re looking to hire quality support ethically, visit our hiring page. We can help you discern your needs and find the best champions to elevate your business. 


    The OBM career is an excellent fit for some, but if you still want to weigh your options, here are a few more hot trajectories to consider.

    • Consulting: If you have specialized as a VA and know the service you provide inside out, you can smoothly shift into or even add consulting into the mix. For example, transitioning from a graphic designer to a graphic design consultant, you’ll be supervising, strategizing, and sharing expertise within your zone of genius. Or perhaps having a few long-term retainer clients and offering consulting calls to business owners who would prefer to DIY but need expert input!
    • Affiliate Marketing: Some may think you need a large audience to succeed in affiliate marketing, but let’s bust that myth here and now. You need an engaged following that trusts and values your opinions. When handled with integrity, recommending products and programs you genuinely believe in can result in a fun and profitable additional income as a VA. In fact, you’re uniquely well positioned to be promoting every day business tools and programs!
    • Podcast Management: There has been so much demand for podcast managers in recent years, and there are no signs of it slowing down. If you love working with audio, managing a podcast for your client can be a fantastic path. Check out our in-depth Podcast Management course for a step-by-step guide on how the pros do it.
    • VIP Days: Have you really excelled in a particular area as a VA? Great. Then VIP Days may be for you. VIP Days are 4-figure offerings where you guide clients through a 3-to-5 phase transformation in just 3 to 8 hours! Clear your calendar and fill your bank account – score!
    • Or, be a damn good VA: Last but not least, keep advancing as a VA! I made $5000 every month on retainer as a VA, and I regularly earned $10k monthly when taking on short-term projects. The VA career path still offers the most flexibility in every way, and it isn’t lesser than the OBM career when it comes to the scope for growth. It’s a matter of preference. 

    New to all of this? That’s a nerve-wrecking but equally exciting place to be. A career as a VA or OBM is a career that gives you limitless freedom and flexibility and we are here to help you find your feet with confidence. Join our next free training ‘The 5 Day VA Challenge’ here, we run these every 2-4 months and it has become known as one of the very best places to get started in this field. 


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    Author: Hannah Dixon
    Hannah Dixon is a Business Coach, Recruiter, and Founder of Digital Nomad Kit and The Virtual Excellence Academy (VEA). The VEA is a leading educational program and diverse global community that has honed the skills and confidence of over 30,000+ virtual assistants and freelancers. Committed to ethical hiring practices, she also provides VIP recruitment services. Hannah views freelancing and self-leadership as potent tools for social change, empowering anyone, anywhere, to unlock potential and create life-changing opportunities. As a 16-year digital nomad, she speaks internationally, demonstrating progressive business and lifestyle approaches, and powerfully compelling audiences to action.

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