Despite what you may have heard, your small business can absolutely use artificial intelligence (AI) to decrease costs and increase revenue.
AI has the power to transform how you do business.
Unlike traditional tools, AI-powered technology has the ability to analyze data at scale, then make accurate predictions. These predictions can answer questions that directly improve business outcomes. Questions like:
- What do consumers want to buy?
- What content do prospects want to consume?
- How can you sell more to your existing customers?
- And much, much more.
Historically, this power has been accessible only to big companies with huge budgets and large datasets.
But, in the last few years, things have changed dramatically.
AI use cases and tools now exist that small teams and modest-sized firms can adopt—without breaking the bank or being a rocket scientist.
These AI use cases and tools cover areas like product and service delivery, operations, finance, customer service, and marketing and sales.
We know it’s possible, because we’ve done it—and we’re a small business just like you.
Here at Marketing AI Institute, our size puts us squarely in the “small business” bucket. Yet still we’ve spent years researching and adopting AI technology that has reduced our costs and increased our revenue. We’ve done that with a small team and limited budgets.
In this post, we share everything we know about how small businesses can use AI.
Artificial Intelligence for Small Business 101
It is a huge help to understand AI at a basic level before you get started—and this is a very simple, non-technical way to do that.
Before we dive into use cases and tools, it’s valuable to know what we’re talking about when we talk about AI.
Don’t worry, you can understand AI in just a few minutes no matter what background you have. That’s because you don’t need to know every single thing about AI to get started with using it. You just need to know a few basics…
First, you need to understand that when we say “artificial intelligence,” we’re not talking about a single technology.
AI is an umbrella term that covers a lot of different technologies of varying maturity levels. We call many very different tools “AI” like we call very different tools “software.”
But the term AI does mean something. It’s how we indicate that a technology is different from—and smarter than—the traditional software you use today.
Second, you need to understand how AI is different from and smarter than the software you use today.
It all comes down to “machine learning.” Machine learning is a subset of AI, and it’s the technology that gives AI most of its power.
Machine learning is when AI can learn and improve on its own. An AI tool is trained on data by human specialists. It learns how to achieve an outcome based on that data. Then, it’s turned loose on new data, where it applies what it knows to achieve the outcome on its own. Over time, the AI tool can look at what it did in the past and learn from it, so that it improves its outcomes in the future.
Here’s a really practical example of machine learning…
Amazon uses AI powered by machine learning to recommend products to you. Amazon’s AI has been trained on data from millions of consumers over millions of purchases. Over time, it has learned which products consumers buy together (the “You might also like” function). And everytime you do or don’t buy based on its recommendation, Amazon’s AI learns to improve what it offers just a little more—over and over until the recommendations get so good you can’t help but buy more from Amazon.
That’s just one small example of the power of AI.
Last, but not least, you need to understand that you can get started with AI right now. You do not need a data science background. You do not need to be a machine learning engineer or software developer, or have any on staff. You just need business challenges you want to solve or opportunities you want to seize.
And we all have those, don’t we?
So, let’s dive into how AI can help small businesses.
Use Cases for AI in Small Businesses
There are a number of powerful use cases for AI in small businesses across marketing, sales, operations, and customer service.
AI has the ability to automate a newsletter you might be sending to prospects, customers, or partners. It can actually source content for you from different online sources, then choose which articles to include in your newsletter—automatically.
The best part? Over time, AI-powered newsletters can actually learn each recipient’s preferences, and send them content they’re more likely to open and click. And it does all this without you lifting a finger.
If you create content for a website, blog, or social media channels, you need to look into AI for content marketing.
Today, AI has made great strides in being able to generate natural language that sounds like a human wrote it. As a result, there are dozens of AI tools that can write short-form and long-form content for you, including posts, product descriptions, and social posts.
AI can also augment your own writing by automatically editing your work or suggesting which tone will be most effective in your content.
Predict Ad Performance
You read that right: AI for advertising can predict the performance of your ads—before you even run them.
AI tools exist that learn which ads and audiences are most effective. Then, these tools recommend how to structure your ads for maximum results. They’ll even make suggestions on what images and words perform best across audiences.
Improve Customer Service
AI chatbots are widely used today to automatically converse with customers looking for service.
These bots have gotten so sophisticated that customers often don’t know they’re not talking to a human. And they make it much easier and cheaper to offer immediate service at scale, even if you only have a small team.
Follow Up with Leads
Conversational AI can also follow up with your leads.
Today, AI tools can actually follow up with each lead via website chat, text, and email. They can make sure no leads fall through the cracks, and have authentic conversations to nurture and qualify them.
When the time is right, AI bots then hand off the leads to humans who can carry on the conversation.
Make Accounting Easier
Yep, AI can even make your small business accounting easier. AI tools exist to answer questions about your accounting data, so you don’t have to go digging through spreadsheets.
here are also AI tools that can learn over time how to organize and tag your accounting information, automating a common, manual process you might otherwise have to do yourself or hire someone to do.
Get More Insights from Your Data
Last, but certainly not least, AI analytics tools can help you better understand the data being generated by your website.
These tools can answer common questions about your website data, find insights that humans miss, and even build conversion models for you to better attract new customers.
AI Tools for Small Businesses
While there are plenty of AI tools out there, here are some of the ones that small businesses can easily adopt and afford.
AI for Accounting
Xero is an accounting software package that uses AI to automate basic accounting tasks and forecast cash flow.
AI for Advertising
AiAdvertising is a cloud-based Artificial Intelligence-as-a-Service (AIaaS) advertising platform that eliminates guesswork in advertising and connects advertising investments to financial outcomes.
AI for Content Marketing
Frase is an AI-powered answer bot that responds to site visitor questions with the right piece of content to answer their query. Frase also uses these questions to help you create content that ranks better in search.
Grammarly is an AI-powered writing assistant that automatically corrects your grammar, improves your writing, and offers recommendations on what tone and language to use in your writing.
HyperWrite is a personal AI writing assistant that actually writes short-form content for you.
Jasper.ai is an AI-powered content generation tool that writes social media posts, website copy, and blog posts for you.
AI for Customer Service
Zendesk is a market-leading customer service platform. Among its features, the platform boasts an AI assistant that can answer common customer service questions.
AI for Email Marketing
With AI from rasa.io, you can create an automated newsletter that is personalized to each individual recipient, which boosts email open rates and engagement.
AI for Sales
Drift uses conversational AI to accelerate revenue by having personalized conversations with your prospects and customers at the right time.
Exceed.ai is a conversational AI marketing platform that helps you engage every lead and set more qualified meetings using authentic two-way email and chat conversations.
4 Steps to Get Started with Artificial Intelligence for Small Business
You’ve got the use cases and the tools…now it’s time to get started with AI in your small business.
How do you do that?
Here are some steps to take that can help you quickly find a use case for AI in your business.
- Make a list of everything you do. Write down every task you’re responsible for in a given day, week, month, or quarter. Include tasks that are large and small.
- Give each task a time estimate. Next to each task, write down how long you think it takes on average. No need to overthink this: Just make your best guess. This is how long the task takes over your given time frame. If you’re listing daily tasks, it’s how much time it takes in a day. For quarterly tasks, it’s how much time it takes in a quarter. Etc.
- Rank the list. Sort your list in descending order of time estimates, from longest task to shortest.
- Prioritize the top three tasks. These are your starting AI use cases. You can use AI to make them more efficient, saving you the most time possible. Or, you can use AI to improve their outcomes, so you get a higher ROI on your time.
Once you have your use cases, you need to research and demo technology. This step is as easy as beginning to Google your use case (“AI for [insert use case here]”).
As you find tools, look for free trials and demos, and don’t be afraid to ask companies questions about what their AI can do.
In no time, you’ll be piloting AI in your small business like a pro.
As Chief Content Officer, Mike Kaput uses content marketing, marketing strategy, and marketing technology to grow and scale traffic, leads, and revenue for Marketing AI Institute. Mike is the co-author of Marketing Artificial Intelligence: AI, Marketing and the Future of Business (Matt Holt Books, 2022). See Mike's full bio.