Do you use Grammarly to fix your mistakes before you publish a social post or blog article? How about a Chatbot tool for bringing new customers into your business? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you are using AI in your business.
AI (artificial intelligence) isn't new news.
But what is new is the sudden leaps in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and generative AI technologies like OpenAI's ChatGPT or DALL-E.
There are countless news stories about Google’s and Microsoft's race to lead the next phase of AI. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, you’re not alone.
In fact, an Oberlo article reported that:
- 35% of companies are currently using AI
- 42% are considering its use soon
Now is the time to transform your business with the adoption of AI.
Let's uncover what AI is and how small businesses use it for cybersecurity, customer relationship management, internet and data research and as digital personal assistants.
Editor’s note: Need help getting started? This free library of AI prompts for small business owners should be your first stop.
What is AI (artificial intelligence)?
Artificial intelligence uses computer technology to solve problems and make decisions quickly and efficiently. By using its past experiences, AI learns how to interact with its environment, and teaches machines how to think and act more like humans.
It’s ability to learn is what makes AI so powerful.
Believe it or not, the first ever AI-generated poem was created in 1967 by Alison Knowles using a programming language called FORTRAN:
A House of Dust
A house of plastic
In a heavy jungle overgrowth
Inhabited by people speaking many languages wearing little or no clothing.
Since then, AI has come a long way. It’s revolutionized the way computers operate.
With advancements in healthcare, self-driving cars, facial recognition software and more, AI is becoming increasingly available to small businesses and consumers alike.
How can it do what it does?
It's because AI has progressed from basic machine learning to deep learning and natural language processing.
Machine learning, a subset of AI, was born from the theory that machines can:
- Learn from data over time
- Identify patterns
- Make decisions with minimal help from a programmer
While these algorithms have been around for some time, the recent tactic of applying a large amount of data repeatedly and automatically has made business leaders take note.
Thanks to the AI bot that tailors your recommendations page, you'll never run out of new shows to watch on Netflix.
If you ask Alexa or Siri a question, you are harnessing machine learning to get the answer.
But while these AI advancements have touched nearly all of us in our everyday lives, it wasn't until deep learning made a splash with generative AI functionality that business leaders took notice.
While machine learning still requires a computer programmer's help, deep learning does not.
This form of AI uses deep multi-layered neural networks to process large amounts of data.
Deep learning teaches machines to think, learn and adapt on their own without us intervening.
With AI deep learning, the focus is narrow, so that machines can accurately analyze a small data set and make decisions based on this data.
For instance, OpenAI's Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) lets people chat with a robot using natural language.
The robot, in return, provides human-sounding text.
This next level of AI achieved groundbreaking results in natural language processing. As a result, GPT can learn by itself based on information it was fed from the internet. It understands what you say and can create phrases and paragraphs similar to a person's writing.
If you're curious about how AI, machine learning and deep learning all fit together, Microsoft has a visual. It'll help you understand the connections between these technologies in an easy-to-follow way.
AI and small business today
Cash-strapped startups and solopreneurs are always looking for ways to streamline workflows and get more done. But let's face it, resources and expertise can be limited.
That's where AI comes in.
AI is an easy tool that can help level the playing field for tiny businesses.
One of it’s biggest contributions is in process automation of tedious, repetitious tasks. This can free staff to spend their time on tasks that:
- Involve complex, unstructured data
- Depend on empathy and compassion
- Require an understanding of context
By integrating AI systems into your workflows, you'll save both time and money. AI technologies can not only streamlineyour business processes but help you learn about your customers' needs and behaviors.
For instance, AI can:
- Automate some customer service tasks, leading to an increase in customer satisfaction
- Provide data-driven recommendations for forecasting and decision making
With AI's ability to analyze data quickly, you won't have to spend endless hours trying to make sense of it all.
The Toronto-based business Senso uses AI to sort massive amounts of data into behavior insights that help financial institutions increase their acquisition and retention of mortgage clients.
And with the recent explosion of generative AI making it more accessible, businesses are quickly adopting this new tool. ChatGPT's free version has already been used by over 100 million businesses since launching in late November 2022 to write:
Legal tech software like Clausehound uses machine learning to simplify legal contracts into easy-to-understand clauses.
The innovation made possible by AI is putting small businesses at the forefront of technology without requiring a massive financial investment.
All you need to do is dive in and start learning what it can do for you.
4 real-world uses of AI
With many tools now using AI, small businesses are likely to find it around just about every corner. While the potential benefits of AI are still being defined, there are already some practical uses for it.
Let’s look at four of the most common business applications of AI:
- Customer relationship management
- Internet data research
- As a digital personal assistant
One business problem all online ventures share is the threat of fraud or loss of private information.
Up to 78% of Canadian businesses experience at least one cybersecurity attack a year.
That's why digital security is so critical — it helps to protect both consumers and businesses from attackers and keeps confidential information safe.
Small businesses today collect vast amounts of data from their customers, from their payment preferences to how often they purchase, making it invaluable information.
But protecting this information is difficult, as this is just what digital thieves value most. So more and more businesses are using AI for cybersecurity.
Isla Sibanda, Cybersecurity Specialist at Privacy Australia, says, "In order to stay ahead of people with malicious intent, it is crucial for any cybersecurity department to integrate AI into its systems. With the assistance of AI, analyzing data from numerous endpoints can be conducted efficiently and quickly."
Sibanda says that AI can proactively detect security gaps and stop any efforts from hackers to steal information.
Popular AI-powered cybersecurity tools you can try are Capterra or Norton Security. Both provide privacy and device security and an all-in-one package that covers:
- Real-time malware and cyber threat detection
- Password management
- Private VPN and much more
2. Customer relationship management
Repeat customers are more than just another sale; they can act as ambassadors for your brand. They may unknowingly promote your product or service among family and friends and establish a loyalty to your brand more than a one-time customer could.
For the smallest businesses, customer relationships are even more important.
You’d be smart to invest time in managing relationships and creating incentives for clients to come back again and again.
But again, this process takes time. Instead, you can now turn to AI to automate parts of your customer experience.
Sophia Jones, an Investment Analyst at Toronto's PiggyBank, says, "PiggyBank uses AI to enhance our financial analysis and offer personalized investment recommendations to our users.
“AI enables us to process vast amounts of data quickly and accurately, identify patterns, and generate insights that are difficult or impossible to achieve through traditional methods."
Thanks to AI, PiggyBank can tailor advice about investments to users’ financial goals, risk tolerance, and other preferences to help them make better decisions.
There are many popular CRM tools available to small businesses. For example, Zoho CRM and HubSpot’s CRM help small and large businesses alike automate and analyze the customer journey.
3. Internet and data research
Since OpenAI began offering ChatGPT to the public for free, many more businesses have tried out this tool they can have a conversation with.
One conversation you can have is about data research. This can help marketers create content at a mass scale without hiring interns.
Founder Michael Wu of Page One Formula, a Canadian small business headquartered in Oakville, ON, uses AI to support his company’s internet marketing research. However, Wu stresses the importance of fact-checking AI output.
"One major problem with Jasper and ChatGPT has always been that AI tends to make things up.”
“Jasper AI recently launched a new feature called Jasper Chat. It’s like ChatGPT, but in Jasper Chat, there’s an option to include Google Search results."
Here is an example of Jasper Chat using live Google Search results.
Wu and his team use Jasper Chat for internet searches and have found the tool quite powerful.
"Put in the question, and it’ll do the research and summarize into an analytical paragraph, with answers clearly laid out, and the reference links marked out at the end.
“That’s all done in just a few short seconds. I don’t need research interns anymore."
While Jasper AI and ChatGPT are great for coming up with content ideas for research, other popular AI tools include:
- Surfer SEO to format SEO-styled blog posts
- Wordtune to improve your writing
- Marketmuse to optimize your content for search engines
- Clearscope to create content briefs for your writers
4. Digital personal assistants
With the explosion of NLP, you can use more than your Alexa or Siri as your digital personal assistant.
A popular personal assistant task is creating content with AI.
From speech-to-text tools like Dragon NaturallySpeaking to generative AI image tools like Midjourney to using ChatGPT for summarizing text and researching content, there are many ways to incorporate AI into your small business.
And when you use AI in this manner, you're more productive and likely to help your business grow faster.
Dave Polykoff, CEO of SaaS growth marketing platform Zenpost, is constantly busy and has a difficult time with writing.
"Sometimes, the hardest part of the creative process is just getting those first few words down. I can have writer's block for minutes at a time."
As an assistant, AI can relieve writer's block.
"ChatGPT can do a good job of helping you spark how you want to start and format your post — giving you those minutes back in your day."
The dark side of AI
While there are many advantages to using AI in business, there are some cons to be aware of.
Adam Connell of Blogging Wizard warns that we still don’t know what’s what with AI.
"I'm sold on the usefulness of AI, but despite the hype, it's still early days yet. Right now, it's about figuring out exactly where AI should fit within my business. And ensuring AI isn't used for the sake of it."
The key is to understand the limitations of AI.
"The use case of internet and data research is a good example where you have to be very careful about taking anything that AI says as truth."
Another con to using AI for content production is that these tools can hallucinate.
This means AI will give you something that looks like legit facts, but they are fake. The URL it provides doesn't exist or the study it shows you isn't real.
So, as with any new tool you adopt, be aware of the pros and cons so you can get the real picture.
FAQs about AI in business
At this point, we have nothing but questions about AI. Here are a few of the answers.
Will AI create jobs?
Content writer Elise Dopson shared that she's compiling a report about the latest stats in freelancing.
She's noticing a trend with AI and businesses.
"Almost half (44%) of companies have already considered using AI tools instead of freelance writers."
While writers may think they are out of a job, I wouldn't be alarmed yet. AI will create more jobs for content creators.
In fact, it's predicted that automation will create 58 million new jobs.
The top AI jobs include:
- AI data analytics: This is the process of using AI and machine learning algorithms to analyze data and extract meaningful insights. AI data analysts can use the information to identify patterns and trends to make informed decisions.
- Prompt Engineer: Someone who works with natural language processing (NLP) technology to develop conversational tools such as chatbots and voice assistants.
- NLP Engineer: A professional responsible for developing and implementing natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to understand human language. They would work on tasks like sentiment analysis, machine translation, speech recognition and text summarization.
- Robotic Scientist: A robotics engineer builds prototypes, tests machines and controls the software. Their research also focuses on finding the most cost effective and safest method of manufacturing robotic systems.
- AI Product Manager: Oversees the development of AI products, from conception to launch. This requires technical expertise in machine learning algorithms, project management skills and staying up to date with emerging technologies.
And if those jobs don't toot your horn, Fiverr has a new category for AI jobs, while Upwork has over 1,000 new AI jobs.
What does AI mean for the worker?
In spite of AI-related layoffs at companies like IBM, AI has opened up many more new opportunities. It's up to the average worker to learn new skills.
As a business content writer, I'm learning to use AI for brainstorming and researching. I'm also becoming a stronger editor and copywriter, two new skills I can offer to businesses.
Whether you are freelancing or are in HR, get informed of AI jobs and how you can uplevel your current skills to be more relevant.
What is the future of AI in business?
The future of AI in business is promising.
As AI analyzes large amounts of data, automates repetitive tasks and improves decision-making processes, it has the potential to revolutionize business operations.
At the time of this writing, it's too early to tell how promising AI will be for small business owners. But you'd be wise to do all you can to streamline your business operations with the tools available to you. More to come.