Do I need a VA, Project Manager or Operations Manager…or all three? — Part 1
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In this episode, Barbara and Matt take a closer look at what really defines the role of a Virtual Assistant, Project Manager and Operations Manager and when you may need all three roles in your business.
During this episode, we explore all three roles and the importance of business owners taking the time to delineate each role to ensure the lines are not blurred in order to avoid any problems arising.
Some of the areas covered include:
- Understanding the skill sets required for each role and ensuring you have the best person for the job
- Determining whether your VA can confidently carry out the tasks you require or if you need to bring in a Project Manager and/or Operations Manager to fill the skill gap
- Planning for the future and ensuring you bring the right people onboard at the right time, and not when it’s too late
- The importance of seeing each member of your team as investment, rather than an expense
Let us know what your key takeout has been from this episode and join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.
This episode is the first part of a 3-episode series. You can listen to the next parts:
- Part 2: Right People, Right Seats, Right Time
- Part 3: The Stepping Stone to Hiring an Operations Director with Sarah Noked, OBM
In this episode:
00:45 – Do I need a Virtual Assistant, Project Manager or Operations Manager?
02:49 – What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?
04:38 – Common VA tasks
04:56 – VAs managing social media content
05:38 – VAs and content management
06:18 – General VA tasks
08:07 – The role of a Project Manager
10:33 – When should I bring in a Project Manager?
12:34 – Confusing the role of a Project Manager with a VA
13:46 – The role of an Operations Manager
17:39 – Part-time or full-time roles?
19:25 – Investment vs expense
20:20 – In our next couple of shows…
21:05 – In summary…
22:45 – Wrapping things up
Resources mentioned in this show:
Barbara: Hey, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of The Virtual Success Show, where I’m joined today by my co-host, Matt Malouf. How’s it going, Matt?
Matt: Very good, Barb. How are you going?
Barbara: I’m great. Excited to be getting back into these shows and producing some more epic content for our listeners.
Matt: 100%. 100%.
Do I need a Virtual Assistant, Project Manager or Operations Manager?
Barbara: So guys, look, today, Matt and I wanted to delve into a topic that we’ve been… we’ve sort of been hashing out this topic for a long time, because we think there’s a lot of value in defining parts of roles that you need in your business. Today, what we’re going to be talking about is, do you need a Virtual Assistant, a Project Manager or an Operations Manager, and when is it time to have all three? It’s really important that we define each of these roles, because what we’re finding is sometimes, clients, there’s blurred lines between each of these roles, which is okay initially, but it can lead to problems when we’re not clear about what the roles are and how to progress to the next one. So Matt, I’m sure you see this in your coaching businesses all the time as well.
Matt: I do. I’m really excited about this topic, Barb, because so many of the clients I work with need help and like the idea of a Virtual Assistant but they get very confused very quickly, I think, with being able to clearly delineate roles, so I think this is going to be really, really helpful for our listeners today.
Barbara: Yeah, and we often talk about expectations management. I know we did a full show on this. What I find is where people sometimes get disappointed is when they get a Virtual Assistant, but they don’t realise that possibly what they were looking for or what they need might be more of a Project Manager or, dare I say, an Operations Manager, which is a whole other thing. And when you try and make a Virtual Assistant do certain things that really fall outside of where their skillset lies, it causes a lot of problems around expectations.
Matt: Absolutely, and that could be related to any role that you’re employing in your business. What I see then happens, and I’m sure you see this too, Barb, is then people go, “VAs don’t work for me, or my business, or my industry,” which is not the truth. It’s just that you’ve probably married up the wrong solution for the problem that you’re trying to solve.
What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?
Barbara: Absolutely. Absolutely. To kick off, I think it’s really important if we… Let’s have a look at each of these roles. Matt, you and I can define how we see each of these roles. So, starting off with a Virtual Assistant, of course, this is where I specialise in. For me, really, a Virtual Assistant is a very broad term, but if I was to break it down into what exactly this role looks like, it is somebody who is going to implement processes that have already been built and settled, and they are then trained on how to implement a process. Matt, what about you? Where does Virtual Assistant fall for you?
Matt: It’s in that, but it’s also, for me, it’s administrative type tasks, unless they’re a specialised VA. Often, it is calendar management. It is setting up webinars. It’s managing and posting maybe blogs that you’ve written. It’s process driven tasks that tend to be in an administrative type role. That’s what my experience has been.
Barbara: Absolutely, yes. And while I think with a lot of Virtual Assistants, you can get some really good ones who are happy to… they come up with great ideas and all that, but it’s not really… if your expectation is that somebody’s going to come in and tell you how to run the business better or come up with new solutions for you, you’re probably going a little bit outside of… your expectations may be a little bit too far outside the Virtual Assistant type boundaries. Let’s call them boundaries.
Common VA tasks
Matt: Yes. And I guess if we were to sort of outline a few common tasks or processes, Barb, that Virtual Assistants are doing, what would be the five most common tasks VAs at the Virtual Hub you’re providing, are doing?
VAs managing social media content
Barbara: Yes. The biggest one that we find our VAs are doing is social media content management. It is a classic recurring task and there is quite a bit of work needs to be done on a weekly, monthly, constantly recurring basis, and it’s a real VA task, because as a business owner or as a Project Manager or even an Operations Manager, you’re not going to be tinkering around in Canva putting up quotes or finding quotes and tips and things like that, finding content to share. Really, that’s a VAs job, and because we have a very solid process that we train VAs in, clients love to take that process and just get their VA doing it.
VAs and content management
The other thing we find people doing a lot of, which is in the same area, is content management on your WordPress website. It’s one thing to write a blog post or to have a writer or somebody produce content for you, but it’s a lot of work to actually get it up onto WordPress looking nicely, spaced out properly, with a couple of images attached. Making sure that it’s optimised properly for the right keywords and things like that. Again, there’s a very strict process around how you do that and VAs are great at rolling out that process and following it every week and making sure it’s done all the time.
General VA tasks
Then there’s things, obviously, like calendar management. I think sometimes, those ones can be a little bit more vague because it depends on the business. It’s like inbox management, as well as another one, researching a topic. You might say to a VA, “Can you just get me the list of top 10 hotels in this area in this particular city, with the price ranges?” or something like that. That’s all VA work. It’s grunt work, is what I tend to call it.
Matt: I’ve had VAs now for the last, probably, eight, nine years, and all of those tasks that you mentioned are the key tasks that our VAs do. Booking travel, researching, calendar management. And everything that we’re talking to here has a system or process that this person can follow.
Barbara: Absolutely, yeah. That’s a really clear boundary for me, is that when you have a process. Now, another one you could get a VA to do is that if you have a process – you’ve developed your own so you’ve got the process or somebody has developed something, but it might be in your head and you may be doing it yourself. It’s okay to create a video of you doing it and then to potentially ask a VA to sit down and look at the video and try to separate out each of the steps, but don’t expect them to come back with something perfect, because you’re going to have to lead that. But a VA can do the… Again, it’s grunt work. It’s like just helping you out with all the to-do’s that you need to do, and VAs are great at all of that stuff.
Matt: I agree. I agree. So, if we flick into Project Manager…
The role of a Project Manager
Barbara: Yes. I’m keen to know… Look, I’ve got a view, Project Manager is a funny one, because I think a lot of people mix up Project Manager with Operations Manager, and they are two very, very different roles. So, my definition of Project Manager… a Project Manager is somebody who you say, “Look, I’ve got X, I want to achieve this particular project.” It could be rolling out processes. It could be anything. And a Project Manager’s job is to create the milestones, the deadlines, get all the team together and get everybody executing, and to project manage all the people coming back, but they don’t do any of the doing and they don’t develop any of the processes. They literally manage the execution and all the people involved and all the deliverables, making sure everyone comes back on time to a deadline. So Matt, what’s your view on this and where are the boundaries for you?
Matt: It’s a good question. As you were talking then, it just recalled the show we did with Taki Moore. In that show, he talked about his 4 x 100 metre sprint with his VAs, which was make it up, make a plan, make it happen, make it recur. When he was on that show, he mentioned how the business owner makes it up, hands that over to a Project Manager, who then makes the plan. So exactly what you’re talking to there, Barb, which is, “Okay, what does this look like? Who do we need? Is there a budget associated with it? What’s the time frames? What’s the milestone check-in points?”
Then make it happen, so then that person is the key driver of that project and reporting back to you at those agreed milestones check-ins, etc. And then that person is the key person to then create the system that gets implemented within the business to make it recur. They’re not necessarily the person who then manages it ongoing. I think that’s a really important distinction for people there. It could be that the Project Manager makes it happen, makes it recur and hands it over to a VA to manage.
When should I bring in a Project Manager?
Barbara: Absolutely, and I think actually a point to make there, I was just thinking about my own experience of coming up against the brick walls in business where you realise you need another person. The classic case of when you need to bring in a Project Manager is when you have too many people reporting you, and all of a sudden, you want to have one person reporting to you and they’re managing all the other people reporting up to them. So it kind of clears that road block for you. A Project Manager’s great in that instance, I think, of clearing the clutter of too many people reporting to you.
Matt: That’s right.
Barbara: You may have delegated loads of tasks, but now all of a sudden, you find yourself all day managing people and managing projects.
Matt: Yes, and I think another thing too to add to that, Barb, is that a Project Manager may not be involved operationally in the day-to-day of your business, but they’re running the project. For instance, in our business at the moment, we’ve just gone through a rebrand and we’re building a new website. So we’ve assigned one of our team as a Project Manager, and her role is to manage the new website build. We’ve had a name change, rebrand, new website, new email addresses. Her role was to create the plan for that and then manage the rollout of all of that.
Now, that’s in addition to the day-to-day operations of our business. We have a weekly… it’s a 15-minute meeting, which is just a check in each week, and we only talk to that project. We don’t talk about anything else operational that’s going on. It’s purely a meeting to talk to that project. I think that’s important with your Project Managers. You want to keep them focused. You want to keep them working on the key projects. They may have operational aspects they’re involved with as well, but their key role is the projects.
Confusing the role of a Project Manager with a VA
Barbara: Absolutely. A problem I see happening, not too much these days, because we’re very clear about this, but I think it happens in the market, is that sometimes, clients, they can confuse Project Manager and VA, and they think, “Well, my VA can project manage this for me.” Lots of VAs can, but it is a very different skillset, because you’re pushing to deadlines and you’re managing, typically, a lot of deliverables. Those deliverables could be suppliers sending you stuff, VAs doing work. There’s lots of people along the channel to manage. And I think that’s kind of a step too far to expect a VA to be able to, and to be fully accountable for all of that. I think you’ve got to be clear that that’s now a Project Manager that you need.
Matt: Absolutely. Absolutely. So we’ve got a VA focusing on key tasks that have a process. We’ve got a Project Manager who is now focusing on key projects, creating the plan for those projects and then checking in and managing the execution of those projects. Let’s now talk to an Operations Manager.
The role of an Operations Manager
Barbara: Yes. Operations, I think again, a lot of people getting … I’ve always said a very big jump is one solopreneur, one VA. That’s a hard jump to get through and people who make it through that jump can find it quite painful but very rewarding. Then what you find is you go from that to maybe having five VAs, and then you realise, “Oh, my God, I’ve got five or seven people reporting to me. Potentially, I need a Project Manager to help me to navigate that.”
Depending on the business, though, what you may actually need there is an Operations Manager, as opposed to a Project Manager, because a lot of it could be the day-to-day running of things. Process development as well, I feel sort of falls into this Operations Manager role, where you want somebody to liaise with you on developing out processes that are then going to be delegated out to VAs. Some of them could be projects, but typically it could be VAs or other people in the business.
Matt: And I think to give a clear picture on this, if we think of delivering your products or services as being front stage, your Operations Manager’s really taking care of all of the backstage, metaphorically speaking, backstage of your business. So ensuring that key people are doing what they need to at the right times, identifying who we need in the team, as well, in order to ensure the business can continue to run efficiently and support the growth that you’re after.
Barbara: Yeah, because if road blocks… you’re right, actually. Let’s say there’s an area where there’s a massive roadblock occurring. It’s really the Operations Manager’s job to be navigating that and reporting back to you on where they see the issues, maybe even coming down the tracks. Like we’re starting to see a lot of customer tickets coming through, we may need another… our customer support’s under pressure, the process is breaking down. That sort of thing, I think, is really operations.
Matt: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that person needs to have good management skills. Understanding how to manage a team, how to delegate work, how to hold people accountable, how to put appropriate reporting in place to ensure that as the team grows, that it runs really well and efficiently.
Barbara: Absolutely, yeah. And I think an area that I typically see a lot of problems coming in is people come in to get VAs and they’re all excited about it, and then they realise that they don’t have the SOPs, the standard operating procedures that you really need in order to get a lot of success with VAs. They try and work with the VA on putting that in, but actually, it might be worth, sometimes, looking at … I know you can get virtual business managers, is what they’re called. This is also a virtual role, that you can actually hire this, not on a full-time basis but somebody to come in and actually help with that kind of thing.
I think for a small business, some people might be overwhelmed here with what we’re talking about, because all of a sudden it’s a lot of people, but I think in the early days of a business, you either need to be able to do it yourself … I was quite lucky in that I was able to be my own Project Manager and my own Operations Manager in the early days, to get things up and running. I was able to really capitalise then on my VA team, because I was performing those functions myself. So you either need to learn to do it yourself or you need to explore if these are the roles that you need and be clear on what they are and knowing that you can actually outsource this, as well. You can find people in the virtual environment that actually will work these roles for you, and they don’t have to be full-time.
Part-time or full-time roles?
Matt: Correct. And this is where I think it’s important to get clear on where should this person be located? Should they be located locally but working virtually, or overseas? Because time zones, I think, come into this. I think the other thing in defining between part-time and full-time, is a case of if you are going to employ at part-time Operations Manager and they’re going to work for somebody else also, and your business is growing quickly, you may be better off making… it might be a slightly bigger investment in the short term, however, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to have that person full-time in six or 12 months because they’ve got another role.
Barbara: 100%. Or the other client committing before you do and swiping your person, because your person is like, “Look…” I can even tell you VAs will come to me and they find that working for two different clients is okay, three different clients is a disaster. It’s very difficult to shift your energy like that. I think as business owners, I think we always talk about this, it is a marathon, not a sprint, and you’ve got to think the long game, and all that stuff. Sometimes, investing in just early and saying to yourself, “I’m committed to this and I know I need to make this work,” …I’m always a fan of just go for it. Just go full-time and put all your energy into it, if you can, knowing that you may want that person full-time down the track. If you’re going to spend this much energy and even this much money on the part-time person, then either set it up so that you could slot a new one in or commit early.
Investment vs expense
Matt: Correct, and that comes down to one of the other shows we’ve done, Barb, which is around investment versus expense. The right person is always an investment and I think that, again, you’ve got to back yourself, I think. We’ve got to look at the commercial realities of it, but sometimes it’s about backing yourself and understanding that if I invest in the right person to take… whether it’s the right VA, the right Project Manager or the right Operations Manager, sometimes it actually puts a good amount of “pressure” on you to stretch out of your comfort zone and kick your business to the next level. The other thing too is having the right person staying with you is a lot easier than having to chop and change all the time.
Barbara: And it’s a lot more cost effective. Chopping and changing, people don’t realise the cost of that, because it ties up your time a lot.
In our next couple of shows…
Guys, we’re going to be doing a few parts to this particular conversation. In our next show, we’re going to be talking about that whole concept of the right people in the right positions… what is it? Right people—
Matt: At the right time.
Barbara: …at the right time. So really helping you to navigate, how do I know when is the right time to put the right people in the right positions? So that’s going to be our next show, and then we’re also going to do a show on this whole operations piece. How do you find somebody who is a virtual operations person and if that is the right role for your business or whether they need to be local? So, we’re going to be delving into this in the next couple of shows, so make sure that you stay tuned for that.
Matt, any final points on this particular topic?
Matt: No, the only thing I’d say is take the time to actually get clarity on the tasks or what specifically you want this person you’re inviting into your business to do. And then make that assessment on, is it a Virtual Assistant, a Project Manager or an Operations Manager? It’s in that slowing down that’ll help you speed up, and also gain clarity so that you can make the right decision. Don’t try and push a square peg through a round hole. Don’t think, “I’ve got this really great VA who I believe would make a great Project Manager,” but unless they want that for themselves, it’ll always be so much harder for you. So, it’s really about just ensuring that you are clear on is it a VA, is it a Project Manager or is it an ops Manager that I need?
Barbara: I think as well, just to add to that as a final point, I went that journey myself. Actually, Matt, as you know, I had some great VAs that were working with me for a long time that I did eventually elevate up into Project Manager roles. What I found was, they were great, but they needed training. So just don’t underestimate that even if they’re a great VA, the jump to Project Manager is a totally different role and the jump to operations is again a totally different role. You will need to train the person and spend time with them or figure it out together. And it can be done, but just be realistic about your expectations there, even if they want to do it. Sometimes, it’s a new skillset completely.
Wrapping things up
Barbara: Matt, I also think in your Stop Doing book, and on your website, stopdoing.com.au, I think that exercise of the stop doing list and really delving into that will also help people not just to figure out what they’re going to delegate to a VA, but to figure out whether they need a Project Manager as well or an Operations Manager.
Matt: Absolutely. And the tool that you can download on that site helps… One of the key questions in helping you delineate there is, does the person need specialised skills or training? As soon as you start to see that for a lot of these roles or tasks that they need specialised skills or training, you’ll understand which one of these three that we’ve described today that they fit into.
Barbara: So, you can get that tool at stopdoing.com.au, yeah?
Barbara: Yep, great. Okay, guys. I think that’s been a really … I know that’ll be a really helpful show for a lot of the guys listening, because we both hear it all the time in our businesses of people getting frustrated with this different… and not understanding those boundaries. And I know for myself, once I got really clear on those boundaries and started accepting those boundaries, my business actually started doing a lot better because I really put the right people in.
We’ll see you all for the next show, and look, if you’re loving these shows, I know we’ve had feedback that so many people are loving these shows, give us a rating on iTunes and make sure that you leave a review because it helps us to get the show out to more people and to really help other people to benefit from this. And also if there’s a show you want us to cover, a topic, you just let us know. There’s a Facebook group. Look up Virtual Success Show on Facebook and you can hit us up in there, let us know about a show.
Barbara: Thanks, Matt. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you on the next show.
Matt: Thank you, everyone. See you, Barb.
(This episode is part of a series. You can listen more to this discussion by going to Part 2: Right People, Right Seats, Right Time.)
Matt Malouf is a passionate business coach, speaker, author and entrepreneur on a mission to help entrepreneurs around the world break the shackles of mediocrity and reach new levels of personal and business success.
Barbara Turley is the Founder & CEO of The Virtual Hub, a company that specializes in recruiting, training and managing superstar ‘Virtual Assistants’ in the social media, digital marketing and systems automation space.