Understanding the Role of an Online Business Manager: An Interview with Tressa

As someone who’s been functioning in the role of an online business manager (OBM) for a decade now, I’m acutely aware that there are people who don’t quite understand what I do.

Some people think I’m a fancy virtual assistant (VA), some people think I’m a project manager and some people think I step in to literally take over someone’s business.

I’ve written before about the role of an online business manager to help dispel some of the misconceptions and help people understand how an OBM can be a huge asset in their business.

But knowing the mechanics of something isn’t quite the same as hearing from someone doing the job — in their own words.

It was with this in mind that I asked one of the content creators on our team to interview me so I can share a bit of my history, what it looks like to work with me, what I consider to be the red flags when hiring, and so much more.

Here’s what I had to say about the role of an online business manager.


Q: How did you get started as an OBM?

I actually started as a VA about 12 years ago and very quickly it became obvious that this was something I was really good at.

Within about two years I started doing much more advanced things, much more strategic planning and operations.t. Then I transitioned into the role of an online business manager out of interest and because it matches my skill level.

Q: How long have you been running your own business?

I’ve been running this version of my business since 2016. I’ve been freelancing for about 10 years. Plus, I was an employee in the middle of that timeframe for about three years but used all the same skills I do now as I was running the operations for that company.


Q: How would you explain being an OBM to someone who isn’t familiar with this sort of role?

Essentially I act as my client’s strategic partner in running their business. I will typically do the planning along with the operations and project management — the things that help your business grow.

The ultimate goal is that the business owner can focus on the vision and the revenue-generating activities. I focus on building and maintaining the infrastructure to enable them to do that.

Q: What are some of the key reasons that people decide to hire an OBM? Why not hire a VA?

I find people will make it work with VAs for several years, and that works really well when their business is relatively simple. But once you have multiple streams of revenue or you’re running multiple programs, you have a lot of different moving pieces in your business.

You’ll find that your typical virtual assistant is really good at executing tasks that are given to them, but they usually can’t figure out what those tasks are on their own. After all, someone needs to direct them.

Typically as the business grows, it no longer becomes possible for the business owner to be both the visionary and the person driving the business and managing the execution of tasks. It becomes too much.

So people often decide that they need to hire an OBM to help manage the team and business side of things to free up time to focus on the vision and the sort of revenue-generating activities.

Q: Often when people start working with you they’re kind of at a critical point in their business. Why do you think an OBM is a good option when somebody finds themselves at that crossroads?

A lot of times they’re at a crossroads in their business because they’ve reached — or nearly reached — the capacity of what they can do on their own. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are the only one working in the business, but as far as managing a team and serving clients or customers, they’ve reached a point where they simply can’t do any more on their own. They need a second person who can take some of those tasks off of their plate.

When they hit that point they don’t necessarily know what they want or need the next step to be. They might have some ideas, but they’re often so overcapacity and so overwhelmed that they can’t even envision what that next step is. They just know that they want it and that they’re ready for something.

A big part of being able to do that next big thing in your business is having the space and the capacity to actually create that thing. Without someone else taking some of those things off of their plate to create the space, they know they’ll never get to that next thing.

When I first talk to people and start looking at what’s going on in their business, I’ll find that they have 27 half-finished products underway. Projects that they were never able to finish because there’s always too many fires to put out or too many urgent things to get the important things done.

Plus, they often feel like they’re maxed out both in capacity and in income potential because again, there’s no one else to help kind of carry the load. They don’t have someone working with them to make sure that things move forward and get done so that they have the space to do what they’ve always had in the back of their mind as the next step.

Q: What are some of the most common misconceptions about OBM?

It’s interesting because I get asked various versions of this question all the time. Usually, it’s “are you just an overpriced VA?”.

I know that there’s an extremely common misconception that OBMs are just overpriced VAs and in some cases that can be very true. I’ve definitely seen a lot of VAs that just change their title to OBM because you can charge more.

The big difference between working with an OBM and working with a VA is that VAs are definitely more of an order taker. The role of an online business manager is much more about taking the ball and running with it.

We see they want something done and we just do it and report back. I don’t need the direction or the steps broken down.  As an OBM, I don’t need you to explain how to complete tasks or what tasks need to be handled because I’ve probably already done it 20 times or more before.

I often see a misconception that an OBM is going to take over your business. Business owners will ask me flat out if I’m going to come in and take over. And the answer I always give them is “yes and no”.

Yes, I’m there to “take over” many of the things that need to be done but I still need the business owner to be very involved in the business and steering the ship. I need the business owner to do their part. It’s not a situation where they can just peace out completely. That doesn’t work because I can’t execute plans that you don’t have!

Another common misconception — and I see this in the online world in general — is that the role of an online business manager is to do anything and everything. There’s this idea that, oh, I’ll just hire an OBM and you know, she can do my copy and my marketing and my social and my tech, and also be my ops manager.

The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day and typically, all of those are very specialized skills. So if you need somebody who is more of a jack of all trades, an OBM may not be your best bet because typically OBMs are strongest at project management and operations strategy.

If someone was hiring me for my copy skills, they’re probably not going to be super excited about what they get back.

Q: What are some of the things people should expect when they work with an OBM? What does day-to-day for an OBM look like?

I spend a lot of time on the phone. Way too much time on the phone! But that’s because I spend a lot of time kind of creating the plans out of conversations that I have with clients.

This week, in particular, we’re working on launching several retreats for one client. One of the retreats that we’ve been planning for a while is one of the most complicated events that we’ve ever put together.

This event has multiple locations plus, it’s international and designed to be a high-end experience.

The client and I have had some conversations about what she envisions this retreat to be, and then I’ve gone and done all the research to find the location, the vendors, and all that kind of stuff. But then it goes beyond the actual research.

Now, we have to put together the project plan and we have to figure out how are we going to invite all the people and how are we going to set up the payments and how are we going to have the contracts — all of the actual, tangible, to-dos have to be created as well.

The start of the year is also launch season, which means we’re prepping for January and February typically because they are really heavy on the launches.

I’m pretty sure in the last 10 days I’ve built seven project plans, if not more because I might be forgetting some. Typically, when it comes to things like that, the client and I will discuss it at a very high level, along the lines of “I want to do a webinar to open my program, I want the webinar to be on January 12th and I want the cart to close on January 17th”.

Then, I go away and come back with 47 to-dos that have to happen to make that webinar actually happen on January 12th.

Clients are basically involved at that very high level of like, “I want ABC to happen”. Then I create the whole project plan that can then be assigned to the team to actually get that to happen.

Q: When speaking to your clients one of them previously referred to you as “the other adult in the room”. What does that mean when you hear that?

Something that often can be a challenge when we’re working with contractors and when we’re working with people who aren’t in our business full time is we can feel a bit like we’re alone in this. We feel like we are the only one that actually really cares about things getting done.

One of my primary roles with my clients is actually making sure that projects get finished — and finished right. If we decide we’re going to launch something on a certain date, then my team and I are making sure it’s going to get launched on that date.

Of course, there are always things that happen and we have to adjust as we go. But for the most part, clients will often say that they feel like they have someone that cares as much about their business as they do. They have someone who can help see the difficulties that might arise as they prep for a project and help avoid those.

As the OBM, I’m also there to be the person who’s following up with the team and being like, “Hey, I noticed that that’s due in two days and you haven’t looked at it yet”.

A big part of what I do is answer all the questions that come up so the business owner doesn’t have to. I address the simple things that don’t seem like they should derail projects, but they end up actually being huge bottlenecks — things like does a form go to a thank you page or does it go to a success message.

Something seemingly small can hold up a project for weeks if nobody answers that question. Being able to make decisions like that, because I know what my clients want really helps move things forward. It also reduces the number of questions that they have to answer on a day-to-day basis.

Q: What would be some things you think people should look for when hiring an OBM?

A big part of a successful OBM relationship is personality fit. There has to be a certain level of connection where you just gel with someone. It’s funny because the advice we often hear is that you should hire people you get along with. And yes, you want to get along with your OBM but you should often also hire for your weaknesses when it comes to a role like this.

The most successful clients that I work with are the ones who have the big vision, but if they had to come up with a task list they literally wouldn’t know where to begin. They recognize that they need someone to complement their skills.

People looking to hire for the role of an online business should look for personality fit while recognizing what it is they need in their business — what kind of help do you need to get things done.

You also have to make sure that you’re hiring someone that you trust to basically have the keys to your business. I have several clients that I coordinate with their bookkeepers and I have their bank account logins. I have their merchant account logins. They joke that I literally have the keys to their life. I have all their passwords!

You have to trust that the person you’re bringing into your business in this capacity isn’t going to take you for a ride. Trust is a big element of this relationship.

Experience is also important. There are a lot of people who are going to call themselves an OBM who don’t have the skills or the experience to actually do the things that they say they can do.

Look at how long they’ve been doing this, how many clients have they worked with, and what kinds of different types of clients they’ve had.

I’ve worked with several OBMs that are fantastic, but the only thing that they can do is work with one type of business. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to know what past experience OBMs have. I’m pretty sure at this point I’ve worked with just about every type of online business possible.

Consider if the person you want to hire has worked with anyone running a business like yours. Do they have a track record that shows they can work with different types of businesses? These are things you need to look at.

Q: What might be some red flags to look for when hiring an OBM?

I’ve absolutely had some clients that came to me after working with someone else and what they often say is that the previous person promised them a lot of results, promised them that they’d be able to double my revenue, promised that they could grow their list by X number of people.

I’m always very careful to not make guarantees for results to clients. because there are so many factors that I can’t control. There are so many factors that hinge upon the input of the client. If somebody is making really bold claims, really bold promises, I’d be a little skeptical because that’s not something they can control.

Another red flag is again that they can do anything. No matter how experienced you are, you haven’t worked with every tool out there. You haven’t done everything that any client will ever ask you to do.

If somebody is saying, it doesn’t matter what software you use and they can do anything, be skeptical. There’s a big difference between “I’ve worked with a bunch of different CRMs so I’m sure that I can learn this tool that you have” versus “I can do anything” like it’s no problem.

I also think that you really have to look at how many hours they’re suggesting and does it seem reasonable for the number of tasks that you’re asking for? Because if somebody says they can run your entire business in 10 hours a month, they’re probably drastically underestimating what it takes to run a business.

Really think about if they’re promising you things that just don’t seem real. That’s a big red flag for me.

Q: What would you say to someone who’s trying to make a decision if they actually need an OBM? What would you tell them?

I’ll often ask people “are you ready to give up some control in your business?”. If you’re not able to give up control, then an OBM is probably not going to make a big difference in your business.

Are you looking to grow in some capacity? That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re looking to do seven or eight figures, but are you looking to increase something in your business — more clients, a bigger email list, more programs?

On the flip side, you might also simply be looking to do less yourself.

If you want someone else to take some of that off your plate and think you are ready to have a long-term partner in your business, that’s where you’re going to see the most success with an OBM.

If you’re ready to put in the time and the energy to get someone up to speed, who you hopefully intend to be in your business for the long term, not just a month here or there, then hire an OBM.

Leveraging the Role of an Online Business Manager

As you can see from our discussion, filling the role of an online business manager comes down to your needs, the right fit, and optimal timing.

By choosing to hire an OBM, you can position your business to make that next big leap — or make the status quo that much better.

Are you looking to fill the role of an online business manager?

Let’s talk! Contact us to discuss your OBM needs.