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5 Ways AI Can Help Your Small Business Growth

Updated: Mar 29

As a millennial, I grew up in a world fascinated with AI through countless movies and video games. From Blade Runner and Terminator to Metal Gear and System Shock, almost every week had some sort of AI based story... Most of which revolved around some malevolence.


Image with a valley and stream as the backdrop but with a cute AI robot working a computer in the forground

Fast forward to today and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept reserved for movies, games, and sci-fi novels. It has become a tangible, powerful tool that businesses of all sizes can leverage to gain a competitive edge.


For small business owners, the advent of AI might seem daunting or irrelevant, with common misconceptions about its accessibility or applicability. However, the reality is far from this. AI technology has become more accessible and affordable, allowing even businesses with modest technology budgets to harness its power.


The aim of this article is to demystify AI for small business owners and demonstrate how it can be an engine for growth, efficiency, and innovation. We will explore five key areas where AI can make a significant impact: streamlining customer service, enhancing marketing efforts, improving operational efficiency, boosting cybersecurity, and aiding in financial planning and analysis. By highlighting practical benefits and providing real-world examples, we hope to inspire small business owners to embrace AI as a valuable ally in their entrepreneurial journey.

 

1. Streamlining Customer Service with AI


In the age of instant gratification, customer service expectations are higher than ever. AI chatbots and automated customer service tools can help businesses meet these demands by providing instant, consistent, and personalized service experiences. These tools are capable of handling a wide range of inquiries, bookings, and support tasks, ensuring that customers receive the help they need at any time of the day.


Benefits:

image with an android at a computer acting as a chatbot for a small business
We aren't Quite This Far Along

  • 24/7 Availability: Since they don't have the need for sleep or time off AI tools can offer round-the-clock service, ensuring your business is always responsive to customer needs.

  • Consistency and Personalization: Automated systems provide consistent responses and can be programmed to offer personalized service based on customer data. AI takes your chat and communications way beyond the simple "Bots" of old.

  • Scalability: AI solutions can easily scale to handle peak times without the need for additional human resources. AI essentially makes your communications and customer interaction staff limitless.

Real-world Example:


Decathlon, a renowned sporting goods retailer, faced a 4.5X surge in customer inquiries in 2020. By turning to Heyday, a conversational AI platform, Decathlon managed to automate 65% of customer inquiries, significantly reducing support costs and improving operational efficiency​.


How to Get Started in Your Small Business:


For small businesses looking to implement AI chatbot services, choosing the right platform is crucial. With your marketing and tech budgets likely being more limited along with *ahem* the tech skills of most business owners being lacking... choosing an AI chat platform that is both easy to implement and use while also being cheaper is the best route.


Here is a list of some entry level AI Chat services you might want to look into:


a cute kitten sitting on a white lawn chair
Gratuitous, Unrelated Cute Cat Pic
  1. ManyChat: ManyChat is favored for its ease of use and flexibility, making it ideal for small businesses looking to implement their first chatbot. It allows for automation across multiple platforms, including Facebook Messenger and Instagram, which is great for businesses aiming to enhance customer engagement on social media. The drag-and-drop interface makes it accessible for those without coding experience, and it offers a free plan with basic features, which is perfect for small businesses on a tight budget.

  2. Tidio: Tidio combines live chat and AI-powered chatbots to provide an excellent customer service experience. It stands out for its easy integration with websites and e-commerce platforms like Shopify, WordPress, and Wix, making it an excellent option for small online retailers. The platform is designed to be intuitive, with no coding required, and offers a free plan that supports up to three operators, making it a cost-effective choice for small businesses.

  3. Intercom: Although Intercom is a more comprehensive customer communication platform that includes chatbot functionality, it's included here for its robust set of tools that cater to growing small businesses. It's best suited for businesses looking for a scalable solution that not only offers chatbot services but also integrates with marketing, sales, and support tools. Intercom's starter plan, while pricier than some chatbot-only platforms, provides a wealth of features that can justify the investment as your business grows.



2. Use AI to Enhance Your Small Business' Marketing Efforts


monitor and laptop sitting in a white office with AI designed marketing on the screens
AI Enhances Your Style

In todays market, true "marketing" is no longer just about spreading the word about your small business. It's become more about reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time. Artificial Intelligence revolutionizes how small businesses can achieve this, enabling smarter, data-driven strategies that were once the exclusive domain of large corporations with deep pockets.


AI can analyze vast amounts of data from various sources to optimize marketing strategies, making targeted advertising, content personalization, and customer segmentation not just possible but highly efficient for small businesses.


Benefits:


User An AI sitting at a desk with mountains in the background working on a computer designing a website.

The following might initially read as far beyond your reach as a small business owner, but that's one the best things about AI in business. You now have the power to leverage business intelligence like this without being a mega corporation.


  • Increased ROI on Marketing Campaigns: By leveraging AI to target ads and personalize content, businesses can significantly improve their engagement rates and conversions, ensuring that marketing budgets are spent more effectively.

  • Improved Customer Engagement: AI-driven insights allow for the creation of more relevant and engaging content, leading to deeper customer relationships and loyalty.

  • Ability to Predict Market Trends: AI algorithms can identify patterns and trends in consumer behavior, enabling businesses to anticipate market shifts and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Real-world Example:


Predict AI by Neurons, an AI tool built on a massive database including eye-tracking data from over 120,000 people, provides insights into how and why customers respond to ads and brands, helping businesses to tailor their marketing strategies effectively.


How to Get Started in Your Small Business:


Ai standing on a mountain creating a social media post on a smartphone

Embarking on the journey to integrate AI into your marketing strategy can seem daunting at first, but it's made much simpler with user-friendly tools designed for businesses of all sizes. Here are two AI tools that we either recommend to our business coaching clients or use ourselves. They key attributes are their accessibility, effectiveness, and ease of integration. Thus making them perfect for small business owners ready to take their marketing to the next level:


  1. ChatGPT: What It Offers: ChatGPT can revolutionize your customer service and content creation strategy. If you need a message that sounds far more businesslike or need to craft a blog without being an expert writer, ChatGPT has you covered. Why It’s Accessible: One of the coolest things about it is that you can simply have a conversation. Describe what you want as if you were talking to another person and POOF ChatGPT works its magic. Getting Started: Sign up for a free account and just dive in. Play around with it and you'll see the power as the ideas for your small business flood in.

  2. Canva’s AI: What It Offers: Canva utilizes AI to simplify the design work you likely pay someone an exorbitant amount to do for you. Now, you can save those costs and use their AI to craft visuals and marketing materials with ease. Why It’s Accessible: With a focus on user-friendliness, Canva makes graphic design accessible to everyone, regardless of their design experience. With some practice you can learn how to prompt the AI to make even the most complex images. Getting Started: This is another mostly free tool that you can create an account in about 30 seconds and hop on and start playing with it. We recommend using their templates to get your sea legs.

By incorporating these AI tools into your marketing strategy, you can take advantage of AI’s power to enhance content creation, customer engagement, and visual branding—all without the need for deep technical expertise or significant financial investment. These tools not only make AI accessible to small businesses but also open up new avenues for creativity and efficiency in marketing.



3. Improve Small Business Efficiency with AI


Engineer using AI to help improve efficiency at a factory
AI Enhancing a Factory

Imagine if the mundane, time-consuming tasks that eat up your day could be handled by someone (or something) else, giving you more time to focus on what truly matters for your business growth. That’s where AI steps in, like a reliable, efficient assistant that never sleeps. From optimizing inventory management to streamlining administrative duties and enhancing project management, AI is transforming how small businesses operate, making them more efficient and agile.


Benefits:


  • Cost Savings: AI can automate routine tasks, reducing the need for manual labor and thereby cutting costs. It’s like having an extra set of hands without the expense of hiring more staff.

  • Error Reduction: Humans make mistakes, but AI operates based on data and algorithms, significantly reducing the likelihood of errors in order processing, data entry, and inventory management.

  • Freeing Up Human Resources: By automating repetitive tasks, your team can focus their talents on strategic planning and creative tasks that drive business growth and innovation.

Real-world Example:


Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and machine learning are revolutionizing customer service by automating tasks such as updating records and managing incidents, which drastically reduces costs and improves efficiency. For example, implementing RPA in customer service operations can save companies millions of dollars annually by automating simple, repetitive tasks


How to Get Started in Your Small Business


While there are obviously some monstrously powerful tools out there, integrating AI for your operational efficiency can be straightforward and simple with the right tools. Below are three accessible options that will be much easier to get your foot in the door to AI efficiencies.


a desk and computer set up on a patio overlooking a tropical beach
Improve Working Remote Efficiencies
  1. Zapier: A powerful automation tool that connects your favorite apps and services to automate repetitive tasks. It's designed for ease of use, requiring no coding skills, and supports thousands of app integrations. A simple way to view this tool is to think of it as a bridge between two systems. A simple example might be sending an email when a customer makes a purchase. Zapier can help pair your email system with your POS.

  2. QuickBooks Online: While we have some issues with QBO, it's also not just for accounting. They have begun to employ AI to automate bookkeeping, manage invoices, and provide financial insights organically. This can significantly cut down on reporting or admin costs in your finance department.

  3. Asana: While Asana is known for its project management capabilities, its AI features help predict timelines, automate task assignments, and improve team efficiency. This allows for a significant reduction in manual adjustments to your project planning.

Each tool offers a unique way to enhance operational efficiency, from automating mundane tasks to streamlining project management and financial operations. By adopting one or more of these solutions, your small businesses can save time, reduce errors, and focus more on growth-oriented activities.



4. Enhance Your Cybersecurity with AI


representation of an ai working to defend a small business through cybersecurity

I know your initial thought likely is that you're just a small, local business what use do you have for AI cybersecurity. However, even small businesses that might not consider themselves as tech-heavy are increasingly online, whether managing finances through QuickBooks Online, reaching customers on social media, or running a basic website.


With even this basic online presence comes the risk of cyber threats. The good news is that AI can offer powerful yet straightforward cybersecurity solutions that don't require a tech genius to implement. Let's break down how AI can help protect your business in a user-friendly way.


Benefits:


  • Automated Threat Detection: AI tools can continuously monitor your online presence for any signs of suspicious activity, much like a diligent watchdog that never sleeps. This includes scanning for phishing attempts in emails or unusual login attempts to services like QuickBooks Online.

  • Enhanced Security on Social Media: AI-powered tools can help monitor your social media for scams targeting your business or your followers, offering an added layer of protection where you interact most with your customers.

  • Streamlined Security Practices: With AI, cybersecurity becomes less about constant vigilance and more about smart automation. AI systems can suggest strong, unique passwords for your accounts and manage them securely, reducing the risk of human error.

Real-world Example:


AI is playing a critical role in cybersecurity, with tools like predictive analytics helping to foresee potential threats based on data analysis. For instance, machine learning supports customer service agents by identifying common questions and responses and catching overlooked details in communications, which can include signs of security issues.


How to Get Started in Your Small Business


a simple padlock sitting on the edge of a laptop with some retro colors
Lock it down with AI
  1. Leverage Built-in AI Security Features: Platforms like QuickBooks Online and major social media sites often have AI-driven security features built-in. Explore these platforms' security settings to ensure you're taking full advantage of available protections.

  2. Adopt User-friendly AI Security Tools: Look for cybersecurity tools designed for non-experts, such as those offering AI-driven threat detection and response. Tools like Norton Small Business or McAfee Small Business Security provide comprehensive protection without requiring you to be a cybersecurity specialist.

  3. Educate Your Team with AI Assistance: Use AI-based training platforms designed for cybersecurity awareness. These platforms can offer personalized learning paths for you and your team, ensuring everyone knows how to recognize and react to potential threats.

  4. Stay Updated: Cybersecurity is an evolving field. AI tools can help by automatically updating to counter new threats, but staying informed on best practices can add an extra layer of defense.


AI doesn't just offer a way to enhance cybersecurity—it simplifies it. By integrating AI-driven tools and practices, small businesses can protect their operations, build trust with customers, and secure their online presence against cyber threats. Starting with accessible, straightforward solutions allows small businesses to take a proactive stance on cybersecurity without needing to become tech experts overnight.



5. Leveraging AI for Competitive and Market Analysis


artistic rendition of how small business and AI work together. Its very cartoonish

Being relevant as a small business means more than just keeping an eye on your direct competitors; it involves a deep understanding of the entire market landscape, including customer preferences, emerging trends, and shifts in SEO strategies. Artificial Intelligence can be a powerful ally in this arena, offering tools that can dissect vast amounts of data to unearth insights about competitors and market dynamics.


For small businesses, this means the ability to adapt faster, personalize marketing efforts more effectively, and ultimately, carve out a stronger position in the marketplace. Utilizing AI tool to know more about your market can give you a leg up even on the biggest competitors.


Benefits:


  • Enhanced Market Insight: AI tools can analyze market trends and consumer behavior, providing small businesses with the intelligence to make data-driven decisions.

  • Competitor Analysis: Understand your competitors' strategies, strengths, and weaknesses by analyzing online content, social media presence, and customer feedback.

  • SEO Optimization: AI-driven tools can optimize your online content for better visibility and ranking on search engines, ensuring you stay ahead of the competition.

Real-world Example:


Because many AI tools that are used for competitor analysis involves a significant amount of proprietary information we are a bit limited to a real world example. However, one tangible example involves Emplifi and its conversational bot, Shop Clerk, which uses natural language processing to enhance the e-commerce experience. While not directly cited for competitive analysis, the underlying technology demonstrates how AI can understand customer interactions and preferences, a foundational element in assessing and responding to competitive strategies​


How to Get Started in Your Small Business


a word cloud of businsss functions held by a simple two fingers
AI Brings it All Together

It's easier than you might think to utilize AI for your business intel. Think of these tools as your personal market research team, always on, always analyzing, and ready to give you the lowdown on what's happening out there. Whether you're looking to up your SEO game, get the scoop on your competition, or just want to know what your customers are really thinking, there's an AI tool ready to help. Let's check out a few favorites that can get you plugged into the market pulse in no time.


  1. SEMrush: SEMrush offers an all-in-one marketing toolkit, including features for SEO, content marketing, competitor research, and social media monitoring. Its AI capabilities help small businesses understand their position in the market, track competitors' strategies, and identify opportunities for growth.

  2. BuzzSumo: BuzzSumo uses AI to analyze content performance across the web, providing insights into what content is working well in your industry and who the major influencers are. This can help small businesses tailor their content strategies to engage their target audience more effectively.

  3. Brandwatch: Brandwatch is a digital consumer intelligence platform that leverages AI to monitor customer sentiment and trends across social media and the web. It allows businesses to understand public perception, track brand health, and keep an eye on competitors, all in real time.

Having a finger on the pulse of the market and understanding your competitors' moves can be the difference between thriving and merely surviving. AI offers tools that demystify market trends and competitor strategies, enabling businesses to strategize with precision.

 

Conclusion: AI for Small Business isn't Just a Dream


We have uncovered some pretty exciting ways AI can give your small business a hefty boost. From turning customer service into a 24/7 powerhouse and fine-tuning your marketing to be as sharp as a tack, to streamlining those pesky operational tasks, beefing up your cybersecurity, and even spying on the competition (in the most honorable way, of course) – AI’s got your back.


ai generated image with a kitten sitting at a tiny desk with a computer at the beach
AI Generated Kitten

Now, I know what you might be thinking, "Sure, that sounds great, but isn’t AI a bit out of my league?" Here's the kicker – it's actually not. In fact, diving into AI could be even simpler and more impactful for small businesses than for the big guys. Without the heavy layers of bureaucracy and legacy systems that often slow down larger corporations, your small venture can adopt, adapt, and innovate with AI at a pace that suits you, making it a secret weapon rather than a daunting challenge.


So, why not take that first step? Explore a chatbot service to keep your customer service ticking, dabble in AI-driven marketing to reach your audience more effectively, or leverage AI tools for that operational efficiency or competitive insight you've been dreaming about. The AI landscape is rich with opportunities for small businesses to thrive, innovate, and stand out in today’s market. And who knows? With AI as your ally, the sky's the limit for what you can achieve.


Don't forget that if you find yourself struggling with AI or any other area of your small business, Out of the Box Advisors is your bonus CEO in your pocket. Our coaches can help you navigate any project, issue, strategy that can help accelerate your revenues! It all starts with a Free Consultation!



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