• Denise Fowler

The six key differences between a Virtual Assistant, an Online Business Manager and a Director Of Op

I get asked all the time what is the difference between these three roles and, if you’ve never even heard of these titles, then it’s definitely an obvious question (especially if you are coming from Corporate rather than the online world where this terminology is more widely used).

Hopefully after reading this post, you will have a better understanding of each role and their differences. I will just add a caveat to this: A lot of people look at these roles as being interchangeable, if they have one person in one role, then then don’t need the others. This really isn’t the case and there are great differences and benefits for each role, so, here we go…

Knowing who to use and at which stage of your business is key.

Nearly all business owners in the service industry start out on their own doing everything themselves. We wear all the hats, but as we grow, managing all those hats becomes too much and we look to take on additional help. In the first instance, this is usually in the form of a Virtual Assistant (VA). A VA will take on those administrative tasks and maybe some of the tech-based tasks that take up your time and effort and are not usually your strengths.


You can build your team like this, a task becomes to much, so you take on more VA’s to deal with those areas. Usually, this is for roles such as admin and tech management, as we have mentioned, social media management, bookkeeping and maybe even some client liaison.


As you grow your team and your income, managing all of this can become too much. This is where an Online Business Manager (OBM) can assist, managing your team and ensuring the smooth running of the business.


However, being in business can be lonely and having a ‘right-hand person’ to bounce ideas off, strategise with, build structure and offer leadership support is what will help you to get to a multi-six figure business and beyond. This is where you could benefit from a Director Of Operations (DOO) – the clue is in the name here.


Of course I am biased, but I know that this is where the real growth can come from. A DOO will help you become a real CEO in your business, knowing that everything is being dealt with and allow you to concentrate on your business development and income generating work that you have always wanted to do. You really can become the face of your business and work solely on what you love to do instead of managing everything else.


So, I’ve explained when to utilise each role, but what are those 6 key differences I’ve mentioned?

One of the main differences between the roles is how each one interacts within your business:


1. Do they require Direction?

A VA will require direction. They will need to be managed and told what they should be doing. They are usually paid hourly for this task-based service, often on hourly retainers.

An OBM on the other hand will work independently. Although they will take direction from the CEO, they will step up and manage the day-to-day running of the business, including managing the tasks for the VA’s on the team.

A DOO also works independently, but they will work with the CEO on the strategy and planning for the business as well as working collaboratively with the team to ensure that the overall vision is brought to life.


2. What about Accountability?

A VA is accountable only for the tasks assigned to them and nothing else. They do not manage anyone but are an integral part of the business to make sure that the cogs turn smoothly.

An OBM offers a much higher level of support and accountability. They manage the team and the projects for the business, taking away that pressure from the CEO.

The DOO on the other hand works in partnership with the CEO, providing the strategy to help them succeed through guidance and leadership.


3. Let’s move on to development.

Again, a VA isn’t there for strategy or vision. They are there to complete the tasks at hand and help your systems flow smoothly.

An OBM will use their own initiative and work with you on your ideas, but they do not offer strategic operational support and will still need some direction, either from the CEO or DOO.

A certified DOO is there to help develop the business and the team to achieve growth. They will provide strategic operational mapping to guide the CEO towards the business vision.



4. What skills do they have in their roles?

A VA is usually skilled in one area, such as finance, tech or a general admin. Some VA’s stretch over many disciplines, but those that hone down to their key skills are usually the ones you want.

An OBM has an overall knowledge of most areas required for your business and will direct your team accordingly. There are several interpretations of the term OBM, some are self-appointed and some are certified.

A DOO is trained to understand the key business needs to help with strategic financial decisions. They are trained in the 7 strategic objectives to prioritise and plan for the future growth.


5. How do they work?

A VA will usually have many clients spread over the week by retainer or by the hour. Usual retainers start from as little as 10 hours a month upwards and they will often take on project-based work too.

An OBM however, works with fewer clients, usually around 2-4, who are always on retainer. They are not paid by the hour, rather by the role that they do.

A DOO will only work for 1 or 2 retainer clients at a time. They are also paid by retainer and not by the hour.


6. What one word would I use to define each role?

A VA is an IMPLEMENTOR.

An OBM is a MANAGER..

A DOO is a STRATEGIST.


So there you have it, my 6 key differences between each role. I am an avid fan of using trained team members or those that have already done the work before as there is a lack of standardisation within our industry and although I have provided you with the key differences, this will not be the same for every single VA, OBM or DOO.


You may find a VA that is managing a team, or an OBM who works alongside the CEO planning out their next move. What you will very rarely find is a DOO who carries out implementation and I do believe that certification will help create that standardisation that is needed.

As entrepreneurs, we all need help with our business at some point, whether administrative, managing or strategising to achieve our next goal, so if you are looking to get that strategic support for your business, why not reach out to me for a chat, I’d love nothing more than to help you get where you want to go!


Let’s have a coffee chat!


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