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  • Writer's pictureisaacmathu

How Small Businesses Are Using AI + 5 AI Tools To Get You Started

Crypto, Blockchain, Web3…sometimes it feels like we are living in an era of hype rather than actual technological advancement. It’s not that these concepts are not technological marvels, but they have yet to grow to the point of universal utility among businesses and consumers.


What makes AI so different from these other technologies is that we are already seeing examples of it in use in the real world by regular people - not techies or niche users but good old regular joes.


While there is still plenty of hype around AI (please do not let AI write all your content), there are many genuinely useful applications. Below are some examples followed by 5 AI tools that are perfect for small businesses.


Marketing


Marketing is one of the biggest expenses of most small businesses. AI can help you reduce your advertising costs by making it more efficient and reducing how much manpower you need to direct towards marketing.


One of the biggest uses of AI in marketing is content creation. Businesses are creating everything from landing pages to social media posts using AI.


AI does have its limits. It will not replace in-depth content that’s tailored to highly specific marketing channels or customer segments. But for more general content, it’s proving immensely useful.


Businesses, and especially online retailers, are also using AI to better analyze customer behavior for various reasons such as better ad targeting and to create tailored marketing strategies. .


Cybersecurity


If you are online, which most small businesses are, then you need to take cybersecurity extremely seriously. A breach into your systems can threaten the survival of your business, especially if it involves sensitive information like bank details.


Businesses are using AI to enhance their cybersecurity. This goes further than just having antivirus software or using a virtual private network (VPN) to shield your systems.


Traditional protection systems cannot keep up with the overwhelming number of malware that keeps cropping up. Humans behind these systems can also be easily fooled by smart hacking techniques like social engineering.


AI provides a more proactive defense against malware and hacking. After training, an AI program can detect malware and recognize even the slightest deviation in patterns that may indicate an attack.


AI can also analyze huge amounts of data, making it invaluable in tackling bots and protecting large systems.


And because AI has the capability for natural language processing, it can parse thousands of online articles, research papers and cybersecurity reports and pick out the latest threats. So unlike antivirus that needs to be constantly updated to defend against new malware, AI provides up to date protection.


AI takes a huge load off the shoulders of human security analysts. It can predict attacks before they happen, provide automatic threat response and keep your systems protected with real time monitoring.


AI programs can be expensive and time consuming to train. But so are data breaches, especially for smaller businesses.


Customer Service


Customer service chatbots have been around for sometime now. Many small businesses have used them to make customer service easier and give customers more channels to reach them through such as social media.


But for the longest time, these chatbots have mostly had basic functionality. They can only answer basic questions and can’t really interact freely with customers.


With the rise of large language models like GPT-4, customer service chatbots have received a huge upgrade. Now, instead of operating within strict rules and boundaries, they can be trained to answer any questions customers have.


The result is that chatbots have become much more useful in customer service. You can now offload a significant portion of customer communication to a chatbot, especially communication involving routine inquiries.


Yet another way for small businesses to save a buck while keeping their customers happy.


Retail Analysis


Retail often feels like one complex machine with a gazillion systems - that must all run smoothly. If one fails, the whole machine grinds to a halt. Retailers are realizing that integrating AI into their operations makes the machine run smoother with less effort and cost.


We’ve already mentioned customer service and marketing. But there are plenty other ways AI is changing retail.


AI can analyze purchases to determine when and what to stock up on (demand forecasting). AI can analyze returns to pinpoint the causes and best solutions.


By analyzing vast amounts of data and recognizing patterns, AI can also detect fraud, reduce abandoned carts, increase customer engagement and more.


You can also set AI to optimize your shipping and logistics, improve inventory management and provide pricing analysis.


Basically, whatever aspect of retail you are thinking about, there’s probably an AI tool for it or it’s on the way.


AI tools for retail can have a huge impact on your bottomline by saving costs, increasing revenue and increasing efficiency.


Workplace Productivity


There are lots of processes in organizations that are, to be honest, a waste of human labor and time. You have employees doing repetitive tasks while they could be focusing their energy and creativity on higher-impact assignments.


To combat this waste, businesses have deployed AI to tackle low-level tasks that don’t require much human input.


Examples include writing and filing meeting minutes, filtering job applications, analyzing returns, transcription and so on.


To be clear, we have always had tools to automate some of these tasks. For instance, most recruitment software can automatically filter job applications.


AI is taking this productivity to the next level. There’s a much wider variety of tools that are a lot more powerful. We expect to see AI taking over more and more workplace tasks.


Five AI Tools For Small Businesses


1. ChatGPT for Content Creation


ChatGPT is good, not great, for content creation. I don’t recommend handing over all your business’ copywriting to an AI. It will produce decent content, but not the kind of writing you need to drive sales.


Use ChatGPT for the more routine kind of content such as product descriptions, SEO-first content, some social media posts and category pages. ChatGPT is also great as a starting point for some of your content. It can help with topic ideas, rough drafts and outlines.


But for your most conspicuous content that’s central to your marketing, human writing is still the best.


Something to keep in mind when it comes to AI content writing is that there are lots of third party apps and plugins that make use of ChatGPT. There are plenty of useful ones such as customer service chat apps that you can train on your own data.


But when it comes to creating written content, I recommend going straight to the source. Some of these third party content creation apps cost money and you are also giving up some control of your data.


The only exception is if the app is providing a major benefit such as easy integration into your workflow (e.g. an AI app right in your content manager).


2. HubSpot for CRM


HubSpot has been helping businesses with customer relationship management since 2005. Today, they have a suite of apps and tools for marketing, sales, customer service and other customer-facing operations.


HubSpot has done a great job integrating AI into their CRM tools. Right now, they have two AI tools that work seamlessly with their apps.


There’s Content Assistant for content creation (social media posts, marketing copy, emails. Blog posts etc.) and ChatSpot.ai, a chat assistant that can handle a wide range of tasks via natural language interaction.


With ChatSpot you can automatically create reports, add contacts to the HubSpot CRM, transcribe calls and do plenty more just by talking to the chat assistant.


I have a feeling this is just the beginning. Expect a lot more AI functionality in HubSpot, and many other enterprise software over the next few years.


This is a big deal for small businesses, who often find the learning curve for new software to be intimidating and a waste of time. Now, you can buy software and immediately start using it without spending a lot of time learning its ins and outs. You’ll have an AI assistant right there to do a lot of the tasks for you.


3. Smartly.io for Marketing


Behind the witty copywriting and cool marketing videos, there’s a lot of nuts and bolts that drive marketing.


Strategizing, content creation, customer analysis, design, and so on. The problem is that only part of these tasks are truly creative. The rest is grunt work, albeit necessary grunt work. It not only stretches teams, it can inhibit creative capabilities and affect the effectiveness of your campaigns.


Even worse is if you have to craft campaigns for multiple platforms. I already struggle posting on both Facebook and Twitter. I can only imagine the hussle of interacting with your customers on 5 or more platforms.


That’s what Smartly.io is designed to help businesses with.


With Smartly, you can reach and engage with your customers on several platforms without having to spend your entire payroll on the marketing team.


Using AI, Smartly helps you strategize and create your marketing campaigns. It also helps you customize your campaigns for different platforms. It even has algorithms to guide you on setting your bids and budgets, to ensure you have the right cost ratio.


Smartly AI also has tools to analyze marketing data, letting you know what’s working and what’s not across all platforms. You can integrate third party dashboards so you can view everything in one place.


4. Dynamic Yield for Product Recommendations


Product recommendations are a freakin’ big deal in retail businesses, or any business that sells products and services online. But not just any product recommendations; they have to align with the needs and wants of customers based on their purchase history, budget, view history and other factors.


AI is a lot better at recommending products than humans. It can take lots of data points, analyze them, and spit out high-conversion recommendations.


My favorite product recommendation engine is Dynamic Yield. You can use it to customize content, offers and products to individual customers.


Whether you are in ecommerce, financial services, travel, media or restaurant business, Dynamic Yield can help you increase conversion and thus revenue.


Dynamic Yield doesn't just work on the web; it also customizes customer experience in emails, on apps and in advertisements.


5. Hiver for Gmail Marketing


A lot of your customers are using Gmail. So Hiver created a customer service helpdesk right within Gmail.


Hiver has now added an AI assistant, called Harvey, to their software. Harvey takes over much of the routine work involved in customer service.


It can parse customer conversations and offer reply suggestions to customer service agents. It can also suggest the right email templates to use and automatically close conversations with customers after an issue has been resolved.


Final Thoughts


As I was researching the use of AI in businesses, a particular theme kept popping up. For many tools that incorporate AI, the AI is only a small part of how the tool works.


In other words, companies are just beginning to integrate AI into enterprise tools and apps. But small businesses are already seeing a significant productivity rise.


I don’t think the golden age of AI is here yet, but I recommend getting into the door right away. You not only get used to having AI as part of your workflows, you also get to start enjoying productivity and revenue gains earlier.




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