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How to Use AI for Your Small Business

For all the talk and concern about artificial intelligence being a job killer, it’s actually a pretty effective job enhancer for small businesses. With so many AI tools being offered in inexpensive and even no-cost versions, AI is helping small businesses save money, find efficiencies, and relieve workers of mundane tasks.

However, the new age of artificial intelligence also presents some barriers and challenges for entrepreneurs and small companies. Keep reading to learn how AI is making it easier for small businesses to grow and compete and what challenges AI can present for a small business.

How AI is Changing the Game (for the better) for Small Business

If you’ve ever lamented not having enough time or staff to do something critical for your operation, chances are there is an AI solution that can help your business:

  • Increase efficiency
  • Boost productivity
  • Save money
  • Improve customer and prospect experiences
  • Identify and develop competitive advantages

These tools can help automate tasks and provide valuable insights for decision-making. Some of the most popular and affordable AI tools for small businesses include:

  • Chatbots
  • Virtual assistants
  • Predictive analytics software
  • Finance management tools

     

AI Chatbots

Chatbots can handle online customer inquiries and provide support 24/7, unlocking time your team can use to focus on other tasks. Plus, AI chatbots can do more than answer questions and provide information to your site visitors. They can also collect data and automatically forward information and questions to you and your staff for follow-up. Some can even connect with other software to give customers information about their orders or accounts.
If this sounds like it could help your small business, here are two AI chatbots to check out that offer affordable options as your small business grows:

AI-POWERED VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS

Virtual assistants can help with scheduling, data entry, business writing, note taking, meeting transcription, inventory management, and a slew of other administrative tasks, saving your business time and money. In fact, you may even have AI virtual assistant tools right on your smartphone, such as a voice-to-text writing assistant like Google’s Gboard, Google Docs voice typing, or Otter.

Like chatbots, AI scheduling apps use natural language processing and machine learning to improve the scheduling process. They can also manage scheduling conflicts and alert you when needed. Some examples of budget-friendly AI scheduling apps include:

  • Trevor, for basic time and task management
  • Clockwise, for team calendar management
  • Homebase, for employee scheduling
  • Picktime, for appointment booking (and tools for invoicing, payments, sales reporting, and more)

PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS SOFTWARE WITH AI

Predictive analytics software can analyze data and provide insights to help you make informed business decisions. They work by collecting, cleaning, and prepping data for analysis, identifying the most meaningful data, and using it to build and refine predictive models through validation and testing—all of which allow the software to make real-time predictions and insights. Plus, like AI chatbots and assistants, predictive analytics tools can also learn and improve continuously.

What this means for your small business is that you don’t have to spend hours (and hours) collecting and analyzing data to try to determine things like:

  • What type of offers will entice your customers to buy
  • When customers are most likely to buy
  • What customers are most likely to want (i.e., demand forecasting)
  • When equipment is likely to need repair or replacement
  • Leads most likely to convert (i.e., where to allocate your sales and marketing)
  • The public perception of your brand
  • Why customers are likely to leave, so you can reduce churn – and more

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is an example of a tool available to every small business that has both data and predictive insights, like how much revenue you could earn from a specific segment of customers or site visitors.

You can also access Google Search Console and use it to spot issues on your website, such as pages not working on mobile devices. Or connect Search Console to GA4 to access information like which pages of your website are ranking for specific search queries, and what types of search queries are bringing visitors to your site.

From here, more tools become available to you as well. You can connect your Google account to AI-driven search engine optimization (SEO) solutions like SEMrush or Ahrefs at no cost and get rich insights about your website, competitor's websites, Google Ads, and more.

AI FOR FINANCE MANAGEMENT

Month-, quarter-, and year-end finance reporting and reconciliations are just a few of the ways you can use AI to automate financial management tasks that used to take hours to complete. And since most financial software has functionality for invoicing, inventory, payables, banking, and other operational needs, built-in AI can save you even more time. Zoho Books is a great example of small business-friendly AI finance management software that can help you streamline work like this.

CHALLENGES OF AI FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

While the array of affordable AI tools available is impressive, there are some barriers that small businesses and entrepreneurs face when trying to adapt AI for business use and growth. The first is just that: the sheer array of tools to choose from. In addition to prioritizing which solutions to implement first, you’ll also need to account for:

  • The learning curve needed to implement and use an AI tool
  • Skills gap (does someone in your business have the skills needed to install and use the tool, or will you have to invest in hiring or training?)
  • The cost of paid plans, especially as your business grows
  • Infrastructure cost needed to take advantage of AI (e.g., do you have to build a new website in order to use a chatbot?)
  • Data privacy and security concerns
  • Impact on employees like job displacement and morale

     

Even so, the future of AI for small businesses is bright. As AI technology continues to evolve and become more accessible, small businesses will have even more opportunities to benefit from its capabilities. Despite the challenges, the potential benefits make it a worthwhile investment for any small business looking to stay competitive in the market.

With the rise of AI tools and consulting services, you can now access the same technologies as larger competitors, leveling the playing field, and opening up new opportunities for growth and success.

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