Much discussion and debate is out there about the benefits of hiring a director of operations or an online business manager. It’s a conversation I love to have because both roles are a huge asset to growing businesses.
But too many people look at the roles as being interchangeable. They’re not. They’re very different, and they’re both incredibly valuable.
Different Roles at Different Stages
As a business grows, business owners tend to hire virtual assistants first. These roles help to lighten the load and take administrative tasks off the CEO’s to-do list.
As the team expands and revenue grows towards six figures, there’s a need for a more comprehensive role or someone to start managing more parts of the business. This could include an online business manager to make sure that everything is getting done and help in managing some of the contractors.
Eventually, through intentional growth and scaling, a business owner might need more. More strategy, more structure, and more leadership to support a multi-six figure business and beyond. That’s where a director of operations comes into play.
This is where real growth can happen, allowing the CEO to even step away from the day-to-day operations to work on business development and identify new streams of revenue.
It’s a common misconception that an online business manager can fill that operations role in a growing business. While in a pinch she can take on some of the operations tasks, this is simply not best practice over the long-term with high-level, scaling businesses.
Many OBMs, especially those that aren’t certified, aren’t equipped to take on the many facets and responsibilities that are part of multi-six figure and seven-figure businesses.
Which begs the question, how is a director of operations different from an online business manager?
Key Differences Between an Online Business Manager (OBM) and a Director of Operations (DOO)
Both DOOs and OBMs offer a higher level of support in a business. But when a DOO enters a business partnership, it’s just that—a partnership. She holds an executive-level role in a small business, regardless of the type of business. This is why the title includes the word director, indicating the promise of strategic guidance and leadership.
On the other hand, the OBM is a manager. She takes direction from the CEO and uses that to manage the team, projects and often the CEO’s projects too. But she’s not necessarily a strategic partner in the business and she doesn’t have the specialized training needed to truly provide strategic operational support.
Certified DOOs have experience and training in strategic organizational mapping to help clients establish a comprehensive view of the business. From this, the business strategy is set and managed by the DOO. She’s deeply involved in helping the CEO make strategic decisions that complement the business vision.
Often, she’s also charged with making sure that the CEO, as a visionary, stays the course. After all, most CEOs need someone to keep them in line and moving in the right direction.
What’s more, DOOs need training and mentorship from professionals who have the experience and proven success to educate others. Trainers should have experience in corporate organizations and high-revenue small businesses from a variety of industries, so they can offer support and insight from many different angles. (This is often what’s missing when it comes to online business and courses and programs from people who don’t actually have the bonafide experience to train others.)
Online business managers can certainly be strategic but it’s not a requirement for the role. By gaining more training in the strategy and development of a business, OBMs can become the partner DOO that their clients need them to be.
Extended Experience & Education
Those trained and certified as DOOs have qualified experience that OBMs and other support roles don’t necessarily have. For example, when people apply for the certified Director of Operations program, they must have at least two years of experience in direct or applied experience as well as in varied industries. That is important because DOOs will see a variety of business structures and industries in this role.
They need to be experts in operations, not the industry. This experience gives DOOs the background they need to be able to look at the information in a different way—and then apply it in the real world.
And one of the biggest benefits of this additional experience? The ability to earn more as a DOO than as an OBM because of the strategic and growth-centered nature of the job.
Think of it like parenting. You can do all the reading in the world about how to parent, but it’s impossible to know what works until you’re in the thick of it yourself. Anyone can learn how to be an OBM, but it’s putting that knowledge to use and then growing it that makes a quality DOO candidate.
One of the tangible characteristics of a certified director of operations is the additional expertise and competency that allows the business owner to step back and let the DOO take over.
The areas where most business owners struggle are human resources, financial management, and the use of metrics to provide data-driven decisions. These are specialties that DOOs are trained in so they can truly be strategic partners in the business.
Financials and team development are two big strategic objectives in any business and having someone who knows a business deeply, and who are also trained in these skills, allows the CEO an extra level of support.
That doesn’t mean that the DOO is making big-money decisions or deciding which insurance plan a business needs; it means she is helping to research and make strategic decisions that are in the best interest of the business and its future as well as evaluating the ROI of a new product or offer.
This is different from the role of an OBM. The OBM serves the role at the CEO’s direction, rather than helping to make the decisions about what’s best for the business. She doesn’t have access to the financials, nor does she have the training needed to help the CEO make financial decisions.
The Muddying of the Waters… and Terminology
The term OBM seems to have several interpretations and those who are certified may practice differently than those who are self-appointed.
Over time, the ease of going into service-based business has allowed for the lack of standardization within the job role. There are some OBMs who are implementing tasks for businesses and others who are performing at a DOO level.
For example, a DOO does not perform any implementation but rather coordinates the projects, team, processes, identify business development activities, and financials that guide the business and CEO to their vision.
Some OBMs implement, write and execute project plans, and helps to manage team members, but don’t have training in staying the vision. For this reason, you’re starting to see DOOs bring in teams of OBMs to help implement and oversee, much like account managers.
That’s why certification is such an important next step for the industry because standardizing the role of a director of operations makes it explicitly clear what her responsibilities are—and why she’s such an asset to the team.
The DOO certification is the gold standard for operations leadership and roles, and many potential clients will look for that qualifier before they’ll even let you get your foot in their door.
It’s a fine line, but an important one.
Becoming (and Hiring) a Director of Operations
One of the favorite parts of the director of operations certification program is the one that students find most unexpected—but also most valuable. It’s learning how to elevate their thinking by planning out strategic objectives on a short- and long-term basis. It’s teaching them how to be more responsible for making strategic decisions in someone else’s business.
Most small business owners, including many OBMs, have yet to run a six-figure business—which includes strategic development, team growth, and a different financial prowess. And that’s okay.
But those OBMs need to learn the strategy behind running and growing that level of business so they can help their clients get there—with a DOO certification and hands-on training and mentorship from someone who has been there before.
It’s so difficult for most CEOs to strategically plan in their businesses because of their desire to act on every idea. A DOO holds the CEO to the vision so they can see true progress and forward momentum while making big things happen over time.
If you’re currently an OBM, look at DOO certification as complementary training to what you already have. It’s next-level support for the clients you already know and love. You will be trained and mentored in new areas, be surrounded by a community of high-level operations professionals and learn how to up-level your clientele so your own business continues to grow and thrive.
We all need help looking at our business outside the CEO role, and having both administrative and executive-level support is one step in the right direction to do that. If you’re ready to be that strategic partner for others, you’re invited to be part of the next cohort of Director of Operations Certification.