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AI in business: implications and best practices for small companies

15 min read
Quentin Aisbett

Everywhere you look at the moment, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is there. Curious to know if this exploding technology can benefit your small business? In this post, we’ll examine the implications and best practices of AI in businesses, particularly smaller cash-strapped ones.

With the news covering AI extensively, ChatGPT is likely the most-referenced tool you’ve been hearing about. 

"ChatGPT is an advanced language model designed to mimic human-like text generation."

It hit one million users in five days, 100 million in two months, and one billion in three months. This free tool is on fire! ChatGPT brings a new level of efficiency to a variety of tasks that (until now) could only be done by humans.

And it’s inspiring people the world over. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Using ChatGPT to create music including writing songs, generating melodies and even transcribing audio recordings into sheet music.
  2. Debugging and writing code with ChatGPT, using it to build web pages, Chrome extensions and mobile apps.
  3. Getting help in the kitchen. Enter the simplest queries to develop a meal plan and then create a shopping list.

But AI is more than just ChatGPT. And while these algorithms have been around for some time, the recent tactic of applying big data repeatedly and automatically has caught the attention of business leaders.

There are going to be serious opportunities for using AI in business in the next few months and years.

AI can be a powerful tool for small businesses, whether you want to:

  • Streamline your workflow through process automation
  • Improve your decision-making
  • Gain a competitive advantage in your industry
  • Provide a better customer experience
  • Make a beautiful business site (you can use an AI website builder)

But, it’s important to approach it strategically and with careful thought beforehand.

Related: The essential small business guide to generative AI

Disclaimer: When using AI tools, avoid entering sensitive information and always review output for accuracy. Additionally, this content is for demonstration purposes only; it does not represent any affiliation, endorsement or sponsorship with the companies mentioned. All trademark rights belong to their respective owners. Third-party trademarks are used here for demonstrative and educational purposes only, use does not represent affiliation.

What is artificial intelligence (AI)?

Artificial Intelligence is a lot of things but new is not one of them.

It’s believed that John McCarthy coined the term ‘artificial intelligence at the first-ever AI conference at Dartmouth College in 1956.

But despite the advancement of AI technology over time — including AI programs that have beat human World Chess champions — for many of us, it was the launch of ChatGPT that made us take notice.

Teal robot character looking at various screens with charts

"AI refers to computer programs that can perform tasks that usually require human skills, such as learning, reasoning and problem-solving."

AI has become an important topic in the business world because it can:

  • Automate repetitive and mundane tasks
  • Analyze vast amounts of data relatively quickly
  • Provide content thought-starters for you to refine

AI is a term that covers a broad range of systems and concepts, which can be easily confused with its subsets.

These subsets include machine learning, natural language processing, deep learning and computer vision.

Machine learning (ML)

ML is a subset of AI that enables machines to learn from data and improve their performance over time without being explicitly programmed.

Natural language processing (NLP)

NLP is another subset of AI that enables computers to understand, interpret, and generate human language.

Deep learning (DL)

DL is a type of machine learning that involves training artificial neural networks to recognize patterns in data.

AI vs machine learning vs deep learning descriptions
Credit: Microsoft

Computer vision (CV)

CV is another subset of AI that allows machines to interpret and understand visual data from the world around them.

3 features that could benefit your small business

The relevance of AI for small businesses cannot be overstated. With its ability to automate tasks, analyze data and provide insights, AI has the potential to level the playing field. Now even tiny ventures can compete with larger companies.

The applications of artificial intelligence will evolve in the coming days, months and years as the technology advances. But for now, AI presents three key benefits for small businesses:

1. Automate time-consuming tasks

By automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, small businesses can save time, reduce costs and increase productivity.

This can lead to improved customer satisfaction, increased revenue and better overall performance.

Two women talking to each other in a hair salon
Automating back-office tasks frees you to spend more time with clients.

For instance, you could use AI to automate business processes such as:

  • Data analytics
  • Invoicing
  • Other administrative tasks

In turn, this could free you up to focus on more important work, such as business development and customer relationships.

It can also help reduce errors and improve the accuracy of data, leading to better decision-making.

In addition, AI can help small businesses improve their customer service by automating interactions through chatbots and virtual assistants. These tools can help customers with common queries, such as product information and troubleshooting. In turn, this frees up customer service staff to deal with more complex issues. All of which can lead to:

  • Shorter response times
  • Higher customer satisfaction rates
  • Increased loyalty

Moreover, using AI in business can improve your marketing efforts by automating recurring tasks like sending out email campaigns and sharing social media posts.

By analyzing customer data, AI can offer insights into customer preferences and behavior, allowing businesses like yours to tailor their emails and ads.

Related: Things every small business should automate

2. Make sense of big data

Illustration of various business settings on platforms
There’s so much data out there. AI can tease out the useful bits.

AI’s ability to analyze vast amounts of data is another key benefit for small businesses.

You can now collect and analyze data from multiple sources, including social media, customer interactions and sales data, to understand what your customers like (and don’t like).

By analyzing this data, AI can identify trends and patterns that can help you make more informed decisions not just about promotions but also the kinds of products you offer and the customer service channels you choose.

For example, using AI in business can help improve operational efficiency by automating data analysis that once took hours of time. This can free you or your employees to focus on customer service or product development.

Additionally, AI can help you identify potential areas for cost savings by analyzing data related to supply chain management, inventory control and production processes.

3. Data-driven lead generation

Imagine training an AI with the traffic and behavior from your website along with the lead data from your CRM (customer relationship management) and social media feeds.

Such an AI can analyze all of that data to get a better understanding of:

  • Your target audiences and their preferences
  • The messaging that will get them to take the actions you’d like them to take

It will be able to learn and adapt with each website visitor, producing ever more effective messages to more efficiently turn a website visitor into a lead.

Graphic with drawings of computers and the letters GPT

"This is AI’s truly astounding feature: the ability to learn from new inputs."

Then with the leads in your CRM, it can analyze historical data and put each lead into context. 

Finally, it can create sales emails and notes for salespeople that maximize their chances of closing the deal.

Editor’s note: Need help getting started with AI? This free library of AI prompts for small business owners should be your first stop.

Easy ways to start using AI right now

Here are four small business uses of AI that can improve productivity, enhance your customers’ experience and fuel growth:

1. ChatGPT for customer service

No longer do chatbots need to be limited to the very trivial if-this-then-that type function.

Social media trends: chatbot

With technology like ChatGPT, even one-person shops can train a ChatGPT-powered customer service bot using previous customer conversations and the customer service FAQs (frequently asked questions) you already have on your website.

The result is an efficient, knowledgeable service agent that continues to learn with more conversations.

Once up and running, response times will shrink and customer satisfaction will rise thanks to their access to quick and accurate answers.

2. Auto-GPT for social media management

Auto-GPT is an application built on top of GPT-4 with the same abilities as ChatGPT-4.

The difference is, Auto-GPT is an autonomous agent. if you give it a goal, it will figure out how to achieve it.

This has many more applications than we can imagine at this point. But one that could be great for small businesses is social media management.

Imagine you ask it to get you more likes, shares and comments on LinkedIn.

First, you train it on the type of content you want to share. With the nominated goals in mind, it will create and schedule posts. Best of all, it will learn along the way and make adjustments based on what is more effective at achieving your goals.

You’ll want to proofread the posts Auto-GPT creates to make sure they’re accurate and read naturally.

3. Dall-E for generating custom visual assets

Illustration of business man surrounded by symbols depicting gears, lightbulbs, and coffee mugs

Creating graphics is another popular use case of artificial intelligence.

Dall-E is an AI model that can create custom visual assets, such as images and videos, based on a written description, or prompt.

Small businesses can use Dall-E to create unique visuals for their marketing campaigns, social media and websites, minimizing the need for expensive graphic designers.

The image at left was created by DALL-E 2 and edited with GoDaddy Studio.

Editor’s note: Need help getting started with AI? This free library of AI prompts for small business owners should be your first stop.

4. ChatGPT and for writing blog posts

Whilst many users of ChatGPT are still using the tool to write shorter-form text such as social posts, there are other tools perhaps better suited for the longer-form blog post.

Jasper is an AI writing assistant that can help you generate blog posts quickly and efficiently. All you need to do is provide a topic and some key points and Jasper can write a blog post in a matter of minutes, saving small businesses time and effort.

Again, you’ll need to read through the article and make adjustments as needed to fact-check and make it sound less like a bot. But it will definitely save time in what is otherwise a time-consuming task.

Related: How to write a blog post properly using AI

The challenges of implementing AI in small ventures

Introducing new technology in the early stages of rapid development can be challenging for small businesses due to the:

  • Cost and technical expertise that is often required
  • Difficulty in knowing which solutions make sense for you

Start-ups may lack the resources to do extensive research and testing to decide which AI solutions are most likely to benefit their business operations. This can result in paying for AI technology that does not provide the results you want and need.

A second challenge is quality.

At this stage, any content created using AI tools should be fact-checked. AI tools like ChatGPT have learned from the data they’ve consumed on the internet — some of it false or unreliable.

Check any links AI provides to make sure they’re legitimate; read over everything to ensure it’s true.

Remember, you are responsible for the validity of the text on your website and social channels.

A third challenge comes from inside: resistance to change.

If you have employees, they may be resistant to adopting new technology. This is particularly true if they feel that it:

  • Threatens their job security
  • Requires them to learn new skills

This resistance can be made worse by not understanding how AI works and how it can actually make their work easier and more effective.

Navigating resistance to change/fear of job security

If you’re wanting to capitalize on the opportunities that AI brings, then you will need to be prepared for significant changes within your business.

Stress Management Woman Looking Worried

"Your employees may worry that AI and other new technologies will leave them without jobs."

To address these concerns, you’ll need to be upfront and communicate clearly about the changes and how they will affect the business and its employees. This can include sharing:

  • The company’s long-term goals
  • How the changes will provide business value
  • What this means for employees (less repetitive work, higher productivity etc)

Resistance to change can arise from a lack of understanding or buy-in from employees. This could be addressed by involving employees in the change process from the outset. This can include:

  • Seeking their feedback on proposed changes (what and when)
  • Providing regular updates on the change initiative’s progress
  • Involving them in the implementation process

The benefits of training

Another way to address the fear of job loss is to provide opportunities for retraining and upskilling. By investing in employees’ development, managers can demonstrate their commitment to their workforce’s growth and development.

This can help ease employees’ concerns about their future job security and foster a culture of continuous learning.

You may also look to partner with consultants and experts in AI to help workers navigate the complexities of AI adoption and identify the right solutions for your needs.

While implementing any new technology can be challenging, it is important to overcome the barriers to adoption to gain a competitive advantage in today’s data-driven economy.

The free ChatGPT tools currently available are a good place to start.

Related: Getting started with ChatGPT

Ethical considerations with AI

As more and more small businesses embrace AI technology, there are important ethical considerations to keep in mind.

One such consideration is the potential for AI to pick up on biases in the data, which will result in biased decisions.

Web Design Two People Shaking Hands

As mentioned earlier, AI has been trained on the data it’s consumed on the internet. As we know, some of that data is biased. This can have serious implications for small businesses, particularly in areas such as hiring and customer service, where fairness is critical.

Another ethical consideration with AI for small businesses is the potential for AI to infringe on privacy rights. Right now, articles, images and videos are being gleaned from the internet and used by AI, often without the consent of those who created them.

As your business collects and analyses more data about your customers and employees, you must make sure this data is collected and used in a responsible and ethical manner.

This includes:

  • Obtaining appropriate consent for data collection
  • Being transparent about how their data will being used
  • Implementing strong data security protocols
  • Making sure that the data you hold is only used for the stated purpose
  • Designing AI systems that adhere to ethical principles

5 pro tips for introducing AI into your workflow

A happy robot smiling while holding a tablet
Meet your new office assistant

Introducing AI into your small business doesn’t have to be difficult. Just use these best practices as a guide:

1. Start with a clear business problem

Before diving in, identify a specific business problem you want to solve. This will help to ensure that the AI solution provides a positive return on your investment of time and money. For example, a small business may want to use AI to improve customer service by adding a chatbot that answers common queries and directs more complex questions to service staff.

2. Choose the right AI solution

There are many different AI solutions available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Carefully evaluate the options, read customer reviews and choose the tool that meets your specific needs. This may involve working with an AI vendor or consultant to identify the right solution for your business.

3. Educate your team

Whilst large enterprises will be hiring data scientists, small businesses can simply be looking to train their staff on the available tools and how to get the best out of them.

4. Ensure data quality and security

AI relies on data to make accurate predictions and decisions. If small businesses are going to train AI on their own data, they must ensure that the data used is of high quality and free from bias. They should also ensure that data is collected and used in a responsible and ethical manner, with appropriate security measures in place to protect sensitive data.

5. Watch and evaluate the AI solution

AI requires ongoing monitoring to ensure that it continues to deliver value. You should regularly assess the performance of the AI tools you’ve chosen, make adjustments as necessary, and ensure that they continue to meet the changing needs of your business and its customers.

By following these best practices, you can start integrating AI technology into your small business.

Just the start of AI in small business

The use cases of artificial intelligence in the business world have recently multiplied. This is thanks in part to language models such as ChatGPT that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence, such as learning, reasoning and problem-solving.

Of course, the applications of AI will evolve over time, but for now, AI has three key benefits for small businesses: automating time-consuming tasks, providing better insights leading to better decisions and reducing costs.

The key right now is to educate yourself and your employees on the opportunities and the available applications of AI. Start small, then go from there.