The Truth about Growing Your Small Business with AI

The Truth about Growing Your Small Business with AI

Alex Sleeper

AI companies are pumping up to replace familiar logos as the new tech juggernauts. NVIDIA, a company at the forefront of the AI revolution, has the potential to become the largest company in the world. This news heralds AI hegemony in the marketplace.

And its potency has catalyzed the emergence of a new ecosystem to support AI users. One example of this: the AI course economy.  

After AI splashed into the mainstream, learning providers like Coursera had AI how-to courses on their site within days. There are countless courses, certificates, and masterclasses promising hopeful businesses the secret key to unlocking business success with AI – all for price.  

I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m here to tell you the truth. 

AI can do really cool, complicated things. It can metamorphose your business. But here’s the truth: it requires engineering, experts, and big budgets. Without the monies and the minds, AI can only promise incremental advantages. Follow me as we explore realistic ways to introduce AI into your small business.  

Predicting Quarterly Demand, For Real 

Predicting sales is like trying to predict the weather: as much as it is a science, it is also an art. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment – around “80% of sales teams admit to having a forecast accuracy not greater than 75%.” And where we humans falter in our predictive abilities, AI flourishes; machine learning models were, quite literally, built for the job. Thus, using AI to predict sales on a quarterly, or even yearly, basis can provide a more accurate and clear image of the future, allowing your team to prepare and respond proactively – not reactively. 

As sales and business leaders, AI predictive modeling can help you confidently organize and equip your team according to anticipated demand. AI algorithms can analyze historical data, market trends, consumer behavior, and even social media sentiments to forecast demand with a high degree of accuracy. This predictive insight allows businesses to plan their staffing needs in advance, hiring additional staff or scaling back the workforce accordingly.  

Furthermore, AI can reveal new patterns and customer behaviors that might not be evident through traditional methods. Notably, 53% of salespeople now employ AI tools capable of delivering data-driven insights, such as lead scoring tools, which leverage advanced algorithms to evaluate leads based on various criteria including past interactions, demographics, company size, and more.  

Bottom Line: Salespeople shouldn’t also have to be business analysts. By delegating more repetitive, data-intensive tasks to AI, sales teams can turn their focus toward the human side of selling.  

Making Marketing Happen Instantly 

Everyone’s got ideas about how to solution-ify AI for the workplace (and a lot of them are selling these ideas). But the truth is, each business, and their level of technical expertise, is so different; naturally, not all AI applications will make sense for YOU. However, for small businesses, there are some no non-sense ideas for marketing that will work for you no matter what.  

Here’s the obvious one: You can use AI to instantly create marketing materials that align with your brand vision and voice. From social media copy to sales email templates, generative AI can help you write lead-converting copy like an expert without any marketing training.  

Use these simple prompt templates to get you started:  

  • Write a 300-500 word blog article on [specific topic] for [audience]. Employ a friendly but knowledgeable tone, citing relevant resources.  
  • Read this article: [URL]  Write a pithy, fun social post to accompany this article that is optimized for [social media platform]. 
  • Write a 3-part sales email series targeting [audience] who are interested in [service/product]. The final email should include a sign-off that acknowledges the receiver is not currently interested.  

Here’s the less obvious one: Automating AI to do complex tasks for you.  

Automation is not a new technological concept. Humans have been automating labor since the Industrial Revolution; it just means using technology to make any process automatic without human intervention – whether through mechanization or algorithms.  

In this instance, you can automate AI to write AND disseminate your marketing for you. Let’s get more specific: you can use automation tools such as Zapier or Make, connect them to your favorite applications, and automate your workflows. For example, you can use ChatGPT to write messages based on incoming emails, and then ‘pass’ those AI outputs back to Outlook to reply automatically.  

Yes, some AIs are really good at analyzing large data sets and giving precise predictions, but these are not the same mainstream consumer GenAIs. Starting with intuitive, beginner-friendly tools like ChatGPT or Gemini, and using them intelligently, means you can adopt AI effectively without blowing the bank on expensive, fine-tuned predictive models. Most SMBs have a total marketing and advertising budget of around one-tenth of their annual revenue – you can stretch each of those dollars further by powering your marketing efforts with AI.  

Hitting Sustainability Goals Is Now Sustainable 

There are numerous pressure points in a business that can cause its sustainability efforts to go off the rails. According to a research-based article in the Harvard Business Review, there are four main “hidden enemies” that sabotage sustainability success. If you can also relate to losing sight on your green goals, AI can help you stay on track.  

Reign in your resourcing woes – and make your business not only more profitable but also less wasteful – with machine-learning business solutions. As mentioned above, machine learning (ML) can guide staffing and resource management, allowing business leaders to agilely adapt and meet fluctuating demands while minimizing environmental impact. This means – using less energy and processing power, reducing your businesses carbon footprint.  

Take this example from ZenDesk: When the company launched their suggested macros feature in October 2021, they “saved an estimated 18.6 million minutes of agent time for our customers, reducing over 600 tonnes of CO2e from customer experience (CX) activities – roughly equivalent to 133 gasoline powered vehicles driven for one year.” 

Taking control of your business’ resources can have a massive, unseen impact on your business’ overall sustainability status. What’s more, you can divert more of your budget to sustainability practices by implementing AI to reduce your budget in other areas. Instead of spending thousands on marketing, you can outfit your office with energy-efficient hardware and appliances.  

But there is a caveat. AI systems themselves are not inherently green. They require substantial computational power and, consequently, significant amounts of energy – much of which comes from non-renewable sources. This energy consumption contributes to carbon emissions and environmental degradation, underscoring the need for strategies to mitigate AI’s ecological impact. Switching to renewable energy sources, minimizing technological and digital waste, and working with other sustainability-focused businesses can help offset the ecological impact of AI.  

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