What is an Online Business Manager and Do You Need One? Here’s What an OBM Can Do for You

You’re running a business, it’s well past time to get some help,  and it seems like every time you mention it people are telling you to hire an online business manager. But what is an online business manager anyway?

Aren’t they expensive? Don’t they do the same thing as a virtual assistant (VA)? Can’t you do the work yourself?

These are all reasonable questions, but as an online business manager (OBM) myself I know firsthand that there are a lot of misconceptions about what we do and how we can be of service to business owners.

So let’s start with a quick intro about what OBMs really do.  Simply put, an OBM is there to manage all aspects of your business — operations, projects, people and metrics. They handle everything from the logistics of planning an event to product launches to overseeing the day to date operations of running your business. They’re there to act as strategic support to you, the leader of the business, and to help you meet your business goals.

Now, you may have heard from someone who heard from someone else about some story involving an OBM being hired and it not working out. Maybe they said the OBM just ended up being an overpriced VA. Or maybe they said the OBM was super expensive and wasn’t able to provide the strategic planning guidance they expected.

Whatever the story you may have heard, let’s be clear — an OBM is NOT the same as a VA, a project manager or account manager. Yes, a good OBM will cost you money, but if they’re great at their job, they will be worth every penny and then some. And knowing when it’s time to ask for help is one of the biggest keys to successfully growing your business, so making sure you get the right kind of help is critical.

Let’s dive into the question of “what is an online business manager”?

What is an Online Business Manager?

Have you ever wished you had a business partner without actually having to share the business? Just another person to share the workload and act as a support?  That’s exactly what the right OBM can be!

Let’s start with clearing up the misconception that a VA and an OBM serve a similar function within a business.

A virtual assistant provides administrative support to a business. Handling emails, corresponding with clients, calendar and appointment management, basic digital marketing tasks and preparing reporting could all fall under their required duties. Their role relies on the execution of specific duties assigned to them.

An online business manager is there to work with business owners and create custom strategies for their business. Process implementation, money management, short term and long term strategy planning and hiring can all be part of their job depending on the specific needs at any given time. Their role is all about being both the planner and the task master, ensuring all aspects of the business are running efficiently and decisions being made to support the broader business goals.

At a high level, there are three key areas the majority of OBM responsibilities can be bucketed into. While not an exhaustive list, here’s a glimpse of what each one includes:

Operations Management

  • Client/customer onboarding systems
  • Client/customer systems management
  • Creation and updating of workflows/systems
  • Capacity management for the owner and overall team
  • Software/apps coordination
    • Initial research, vetting and coordination between the owner/expert/company.
  • Money management oversight.
    • Support for bookkeeping, tax processes and cashflow.
    • Act as a liaison with the bookkeeper, CFO or other money management professionals working with the business.

Project Management

  • Breaking down large projects into small, manageable steps.
  • Setting up projects to-dos for everyone on the team.
  • Ensuring effective deployment of tasks, including making sure appropriate resources are in place for execution.
  • Continuously monitoring projects and tasks for adherence to timelines.
  • Updating project to-dos as priorities shift.
  • Troubleshooting missing resources or bottlenecks as a project progresses.

People Management

  • Developing a short-term and long-term hiring strategy
  • Hiring employees and contractors
  • Training employees and contractors
  • Day-to-day performance management
  • Periodic performance reviews
  • Task execution support (aka answering all the little questions people have when they’re trying to do things)

Online Business Manager Versus Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

Another common misconception people have about OBMs is that we serve the same function as a project manager (PM).

An OBM cares for all aspects of your business, while a PM is there to work specifically on projects. Think of it as sort of a macro versus a micro approach — an OBM does all the things and deals with all areas of the business, while the PM is focused on a specific area.

Let’s look at a comparison so you can see exactly which responsibilities fall under each role.

Online Business ManagerProject Manager
Hired to manage the day-to-day operations of your business including HR and finance.Hired to oversee a specific project or projects that may fall out of the scope of day-to-day operations. Typically, only manages the team on tasks related to the project.
Sets up systems and develops standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the entire business.Develops and executes a specific project plan.
Provides oversight to business owners on all operational tasks in flight.Responsible for overseeing the implementation of the specific project.
Identifies and creates project strategies and assesses how they meet broader business goals.Breaks the project down into manageable tasks and ensures adherence to timelines.

When To Hire an OBM

If you’re starting to consider hiring an OBM to build your team for revenue growth, it’s important to know from the start that this is not a quick fix. You may not know what you need, but you feel like something is missing. There’s a hole, your team is great and working, but it’s not enough. The key to growing your team successfully is to hire before you’re completely desperate for help. Not having the right support in place as you grow your business contributes to stress, overwhelm, and burnout for owners and team members as well as negatively impacting the trajectory of the business.

It’s a common scenario for the leaders of the business to end up being the bottleneck that slows things down because they have too much on their plate. You’re used to doing everything yourself, and as the business evolves, so does the workload distribution. It’s nearly impossible to master your role as CEO when you spend your days putting out fires and actually doing the work that needs to be done.

One of the biggest questions I get asked about hiring an OBM is “How do I know I actually need to hire for that role?”, so let’s look at some common signs you’re likely ready for an OBM.

#1. You’re stuck at a certain point in your business but you have a proven business model.

If you reach the point where you aren’t making the headway you’d like towards reaching your goals but your business model is solid, it may be a concrete strategy you’re currently lacking. Having someone come in with a fresh set of eyes and a suite of skills to assess your current state can be a complete game changer. Because you’re spending so much time working in the business, shifting towards having someone working on the business can make all the difference. An OBM can help provide both the strategy and resources you need to drive your business forward.  

#2. You’re likely doing it by sheer grit and you need to be more strategic.

Yes, running your own business requires plenty of hustle and hardwork, but when you’re busy focusing on the ‘what’ it’s all too easy to forget about the ‘how’ and ‘why’. Your business may be profitable but long-term success requires strategic planning and a thoughtful approach. An OBM role is to guide you in creating a strategy that has a purpose and doesn’t have you doing things just because that’s how you’ve always done them. 

#3. You have multiple lines of revenue and it’s too many moving parts. 

Running a business where you offer multiple lines of revenue means each thing has its own set of logistics to be handled. Can you really be effective when you’re trying to launch a new course, planning a book tour and working one on one with clients? Maybe, but the chance of a ball getting dropped and you ending up burnt out is high. Having an OBM means someone else is covering the logistics of it all and you can concentrate on being the visionary and staying in your zone of genius. 

#4. You’re willing to invest in your business.  

Hiring an OBM or any other team member comes with a price tag attached, but it’s truly an investment in your business. You are one person, or maybe you already have a small team, but the fact is time is finite and you only have so much capacity. If you want to increase productivity, you will eventually need to expand your team, and having an OBM who can drive strategy, operations and hiring decisions based on concrete facts is one of the best investments you can make for the long term. 

#5. You’re ready and able to give up control. 

This can be a BIG challenge for those of us who built our businesses from the ground. We’re used to having control of every aspect of what goes on within the business. The reality is, we can’t be that person forever if we’re ever going to grow  but this can only happen if you’re ready to let someone else step in and take the reins. When you hire an OBM, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost control — quite the opposite, in fact. Most of my clients tell me they feel MORE in control from having me as part of their business because all those details and tasks they’ve been trying to juggle are no longer their responsibility. 

#6. You want someone to help you make decisions and you’re tired of doing all the things. 

Decision fatigue is a real thing. Business burnout is also a real thing. Both those things together can add up to a great deal of stress. We make so many decisions in a day, both big and small, that it can get downright exhausting. Add in having to also do 30 different tasks and you may be feeling DONE with it all. An OBM acts as both a sounding board and a delegator of tasks so you can build a better team and ditch your stress

If you’ve ever asked the question “what is an online business manager?”, you’re not alone. Here’s everything you need to know about what OBM does.

Practical Examples of What an OBM Can Do

At this point you may be thinking this all sounds AWESOME but you aren’t sure how this works in the real world of running your business.  

Let’s look at a few examples from my business and how my role as the OBM functions with my clients. 

OBM Challenge: With a client’s new book coming out, how do we effectively segment a list without leaving any groups behind?

During a recent call with a client, we dug into the impact a new book will have on her overall business considering that the new book is a slight pivot from what she’s been focusing on for the last three to five years in her business. We discussed how we could ensure we don’t lose a segment of her audience that’s still interested in her prior focus as we spend more time on the new topics relating to the book. After making some high level decisions around what that would look like, I took on creating the strategy we needed to develop a specific plan around what content we would publish regularly, which content we would publish occasionally and how each type of content would be talked about on social media and emailed out to her list. The client was involved with the discussion portion but then left the back end tech and segmentation to me to determine the best course of action.

OBM Challenge: Revise and reuse existing landing pages without the owner recreating content. 

So often an owner’s first inclination is to create new content whenever we decide on a promotion. However, a vast majority of the time there’s existing content that can be repurposed to do at least some of the heavy lifting for the promotion. I will often take the initial steps of finding the existing content so I can do the first pass review to update for dates, offer specifics, and notes around what actually needs updating or changing. This saves the owner a ton of time and ensures they only have to focus on the pieces that truly need their touch. 

OBM Challenge: Considering revenue streams, price points and nurturing leads to larger offers.

Spending time to intentionally map out the client journey is often something we know we need to do, but it can be a daunting task.

Here’s how I tackle it with clients: we focus on building out the full map of what we want to accomplish and a rough timeline of when we want to roll out any of the new pieces. Then, we have a high-level discussion about what elements will go into each stage. 

My role as an OBM is to look at the bigger picture for the business with the overall strategy in mind. Then, I handle organizing the moving pieces so we can go from idea to action. This includes: 

  • Mapping out the step-by-step tasks involved at each stage.
  • Assigning out all of the elements to the team. 
  • Coordinating with team members as we work through the to-do lists.
  • Answering as many of the project related questions as possible. 
  • Addressing related budgets, pricing, and other areas as needed. 

With this process, the goal is to remove most of the heavy lifting off the shoulders of the business owner so the project gets done on schedule without eating up all of their time.

OBM Challenge: Timing live events and planning promotions

A big part of my work with clients centers around timing. Most entrepreneurs have big dreams and goals but aren’t always sure how to break it down into bite-size pieces and a timeline. Once we decide on a date for a promotion or live event, it’s then my responsibility to work backwards to create the full timeline of all the little moving pieces that need to happen to make that public date actually happen.

For instance, when building out a 5-day challenge to launch a program, I would figure out when all the various pieces needed to be drafted, built, reviewed, and published so promotion could happen in time to actually fill the challenge. There’s a ton of moving pieces that go into something like a 5-day challenge so taking this on means the owner can focus on only the pieces that truly need their input and leave the rest in my capable hands.

How To Find the Right OBM

A prosperous and mutually beneficial relationship with an OBM starts with two things — trust and clear expectations. Understanding exactly who you’re hiring, what their experience is, and what they do and don’t handle is critical when making a decision whether the person you’re considering is a good fit for your business. 

An OBM is a strategic thinker, not an order taker. This is not a $20/hour service and you will pay for experience.  You’re essentially hiring a COO, so you need to budget accordingly, keeping in mind it’s not full-time. Whatever you do, don’t hire 100% based on hourly rates as you get what you pay for. 

When considering potential candidates, I suggest looking for the following:

  • Do they work with clients or are they just running a OBM training course? You want someone who has recent experience doing the actual work of being an OBM, not just teaching others how to do it. 
  • Can they provide proven results and examples? Check references and verify, verify, verify.
  • Are they in this for the long haul? You’re looking for someone who can be in your business for two+ years, not a few months. 
  • Are they a personality fit? When you first talk to a candidate, accept that this is them at their best, so if you don’t vibe with them right then, you’re unlikely to later when things are more serious. 
  • What’s their work style? Organization is everything when it comes to being a successful OBM, so ask how they plan their day, organize tasks, and prioritize their workload.
  • How’s their demeanor? This may seem a bit strange, but you want your OBM to be calm. Their role is all about dealing with anything that happens along the way and you want someone you can rely on when a shopping cart is broken or payments are failing. You need someone you can simply handle it without stressing you out. 
  • Is there anything specific they’re unwilling to do? Sometimes hard or uncomfortable things have to be done, like setting boundaries with clients. Best to know in advance if there are things not in their repertoire so you can decide whether or not it’s a dealbreaker.  

What to Expect Once Your OBM is Hired

Hiring an OBM is about establishing a long-term relationship, so it takes time to see the impact. You need to be ready to be patient, as big changes may take six months or more, and this will not be an overnight transformation.

It will take your OBM a bit of time to acclimate to your business and understand your workflows and processes, but you should be ready to answer some tactical questions to help them start formulating plans for how things can operate more efficiently.  Your OBM is there to help you build a strong foundation for your business and the more insight you can provide, the more they can be of service. 

You can expect your OBM to ask about:

  • Your schedule. How many hours a week you work and where specifically you spend your time. If you can’t answer that question, I suggest you start time tracking and doing some of your own analysis before your new OBM even begins. 
  • Your team. An OBM will need a clear picture of roles and responsibilities so they can make recommendations for shifting tasks, maximizing capacity and making the best use of all the skills on the team. 
  • Your business processes. It’s totally okay if you don’t have any of these documented (this is just one of the things your OBM can help with) but they will want to know the current flow that different tasks follow. 
  • Your business model. Your OBM will want to understand both the current state and desired future state of your business model so they can work on strategic planning to drive the business. 

Your OBM is there to take the load off your plate by helping you with decisions and day-to-day operations, and this can be through creating processes, setting up systems, and sharing on key decisions. 

Another thing you can expect from your OBM is that they WILL challenge your thinking and assumptions — and that’s what you want! Their focus is to help you get clear on what’s best for you and the business, and then support you in whatever your ultimate decision is. 

The Right Help at the Right Time

Now that you know the answer to “what is an online business manager?”, you should be able to make an informed decision when assessing whether or not you need one.

So much of making good hiring decisions comes down to finding a great fit at the right time. And while it can seem a bit scary to make a commitment to something like hiring an OBM, if you want your business to flourish, at some point you’re going to need help. Deciding to get that help BEFORE you’re drowning in your to-do list is one of the smartest (and kindest!) things you can do for yourself and your business.

Interested in learning more about hiring an online business manager? Let’s talk about how I can help your business. Book a consult right here.