One of the first questions I get from small business owners who have never worked with an online business manager, project manager, or virtual assistant before is “what exactly can you help me do?” I get it! It’s tough to know exactly what you can delegate when you’re used to doing everything yourself.
What’s the difference between an OBM, PM, and VA?
Let’s start here: an OBM is an online business manager, a PM is a project manager, and a VA is a virtual assistant. Beyond that, what people who hold those titles actually do is a big fun game of semantics – if you ask ten people, you’ll get at least ten different answers.
Take this with a grain of salt since I’m one person in a sea of talented, sometimes hyper-specialized service providers, but in my experience a VA handles more day-to-day (often purely administrative) tasks, while an OBM is more involved in the business at a higher level – developing systems, delegating tasks, and making sure tasks and projects stay on track. A PM falls somewhere in between – creating systems but also taking on some tasks and projects themselves – and that’s how I tend to think of myself.
How do I find the right OBM/PM/VA for me and my business?
Lots of people have decided to really niche down in their work, so you may find service providers who are Design VAs or OBMS for fitness coaches. I enjoy being a Sam-of-all-trades: my clients have ranged from mindset coaches to musicians to spirits importers to tech startups to nonprofit founders and thought leaders, and I handle a variety of different tasks. The best way to find a good fit is to identify exactly where you need help in your business, and then find real humans who offer those services.
It’s also worth mentioning this: when you hire an OBM, PM, or VA, you’re inviting someone into your business to work alongside you. It’s so important that that person is someone you enjoy talking to and whose work style is compatible with yours. Don’t write off the “vibe check” when you’re hiring – or you’ll both be miserable.
If you’re considering working with someone outside your time zone, make sure your time difference and work hours are compatible! I had one potential client who was a great fit, but our time difference was exactly 12 hours apart. We’d rarely be online at the same time, and if one of us had a question or needed something from the other to finish a task, our productivity would suffer.
Recommendations from other entrepreneurs are a fantastic place to start, but I’ve also found some success searching on Instagram. The Hill Creatives by Aleia Walker is an incredible resource for hiring Black service providers across industries.
What kind of tasks can an OBM/PM/VA take off my plate?
If you’re looking to delegate for the first time, I think it’s really helpful to track your time for a week or two to see how you’re actually spending your days. From there, look at the tasks you really dread (first to go), tasks you don’t mind doing but they don’t require *your* expertise/knowledge/experience/brain to do them (next to go), and the tasks that you love doing and are awesome at (last/never to go).
Here are some examples of the kind of tasks I work on for my clients:
- Client proposals, onboarding and offboarding in Dubsado
- Invoicing: manually, or through software like Stripe, Dubsado, etc.
- Setting up task management software like ClickUp, Asana, or Basecamp
- Launch planning and management
- Scheduling and calendar management
- Inbox management
- Scheduling and formatting emails in Mailchimp, Convertkit, Flodesk, ActiveCampaign, etc.
- Setting up new products in Shopify or Thrivecart
- Setting up new courses in Thinkific, Teachable, Podia, Kajabi, etc.
- Customer service: processing refunds, lost password requests, etc.
- Scheduling and formatting blog/social media content
- Creating graphics from provided templates in Canva or Photoshop
- Creating workbooks (and other products/presentations) from provided templates in Canva
- Showit theme installation and formatting
- Formatting sales pages in WordPress, Squarespace, or Showit with provided template/theme, copy, and graphics
- Minor website updates on WordPress, Squarespace, or Showit
- Tracking press opportunities like podcast interviews, guest posts, etc.
- Travel booking
- General research
- Editing copy for grammar/punctuation
- Identifying the right apps/tools for any of the tasks listed above
- Creating screen recordings of workflows and processes – my favorite way to record SOPs (SOPs = standard operating procedures)
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I think it gives you a pretty good idea of the types of tasks I consider to be “in scope” with my clients.
What kinds of tasks won’t my OBM or VA do?
This question is just as important as finding out what a potential service provider can and will do – don’t forget to ask it during interviews! Obviously it’s going to vary from person to person, but in my business, I don’t take on the following types of tasks for clients:
- Sales: for example, inquiry calls with your potential clients
- Manual transcription (but I’m happy to use a service like Rev.com or Trint)
- Independent content creation (like writing copy and designing graphics)
- Video and audio editing
- Receptionist services
- HR, legal, or accounting services
- Physical/IRL tasks like writing Christmas cards (this was a real ask, and if I’m honest I kind of loved the creativity!)
How can I prep my business before I’m ready to hire someone?
Even if you’re not quite ready to bring someone else into your business, there are three things you can do to start preparing for that change:
- If you’re not already using one, sign up for a password management app like 1Password, Dashlane, or LastPass. Not only is it a good practice to keep your information safe, but it’ll be so much easier to find and share all of the passwords your OBM, PM, or VA will need.
- Screen record yourself doing tasks you’d like to delegate using an app like Quicktime or a service like Loom. Save these to a folder on Dropbox or Google Drive so they’re organized and ready to share.
- Do the time-tracking exercise to figure out how you’re currently spending your time and keep a running list of tasks you’d like to hand off someday.
My last, best piece of advice for hiring an OBM, PM, or VA is this: it might not feel like you have less on your plate right away. In fact, getting someone who’s not you up to speed on how to run your business might feel overwhelming at first!
When you catch yourself thinking “ugh, it would be so much faster to just do this myself,” know that you’re absolutely right. I hope you stick with it anyway, because it will always be faster to do it yourself than to teach someone else… the first time. Learning how to delegate is a skill you have to develop, just like anything else – be gentle on yourself if it doesn’t come naturally.
So, ready to delegate?
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