By Neil Hare
While many business owners are still trying to figure out what artificial intelligence (AI) means for them, a new report from the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBEC) shows that a large number of small businesses are using AI tools to significantly improve efficiency. and saving hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
The SBEC survey reports that nearly half (48%) of small businesses started using AI tools in the past year, and 29% have been using them for a year or two. According to SBEC CEO Karen Kerrigan, “Small business owners have quickly embraced AI, and a range of tools and applications are helping them increase profitability, productivity and competitiveness at a time when they need such support. In fact, 93% of small business owners agree that AI tools offer cost-effective solutions that drive savings and increase profitability.”
AI tools for your small business toolbox
The first AI tool to gain significant traction was ChatGPT. Like all AI tools, it digests large amounts of data and can instantly generate a script for anything you ask. (However, it is important to check its operation, as it is not always 100% correct.)
There are also AI tools for everything you need for your business: marketing and sales, business planning, financial management and human resources – and often at little or no cost. Here are a few tools to try:
- Upmetrics—A tool for writing business plans with 400 templates to choose from
- ClickUp—A cloud-based project management tool
- Jasper—Content generator for articles, blogs, social media posts and marketing copy
- Zoho Zia—Sales tool for lead generation, lead management, data collection and sales copy writing
- ChatSpot by HubSpot—A free sales and marketing tool, even if you’re not a HubSpot user
- FROM-E 2—Creates realistic images from written images for creative development
- Manatal—HR recruiting tool
- Movement—A calendar tool to track your time and set routes
- Lumen5—Video creation tool
- Otter.ai—A meeting assistant tool that records conversations, takes notes, transcribes interviews and creates summaries
Using artificial intelligence can save small businesses time and money
The SBEC survey found that small businesses have made significant time and cost savings thanks to AI, allowing them to focus resources on a variety of areas, including:
- 41% have used artificial intelligence to redirect their time and their employees’ time to higher value work
- 39% have invested in AI tools for innovative solutions to attract and retain customers
- 37% used the savings from AI to invest in other new technologies
- 36% kept prices stable for customers in this inflationary environment
- 34% used savings to obtain growth opportunities for their business
- 25% used savings to increase wages and benefits
- 25% used savings to set aside capital for emergency/other purposes
- 20% used savings to pay off debts faster
Workforce challenges driving AI adoption
In addition to saving time and money, a key driver of adoption of AI tools is the number one challenge facing small businesses today: a tight labor market. More small businesses emerging from Covid are struggling to find and retain workers. With unemployment at historic lows and telecommuting still widely available, many workers can now find jobs across the country, leaving local retailers, restaurants and manufacturing businesses with fewer options for talent.
As small town workers were able to work remotely and earn wages in big cities, this led to an unsustainable rise in worker wages for small businesses. According to the SBEC report, 25% of small businesses said rising labor costs are driving them to AI tools; 19% said they are switching to AI to upskill existing employees or because they can’t find skilled workers.
In addition to workforce challenges, almost a third of businesses surveyed by SBEC cited the need to compete with other businesses, including larger companies, as a reason for turning to AI.
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The downsides of AI for small businesses
While AI tools are here to stay, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any downsides:
Lack of creativity: First of all, the information provided by AI writing tools is often wrong and there is no human element in the writing style (as a writer I have to say this!). The same lack of creativity is a common problem with many AI tools.
Lack of emotional element: AI also lacks the emotional element that humans bring to the table. While too much emotion can be harmful in the workplace, empathy and decision-making based on a lifetime of experience are important when managing people and working as a team.
Robotics is expensive: If you’re talking about robotics, it’s still an expensive proposition. Standard robots that can perform a single task have been around for a long time and can be affordable, but robots that can think and perform multiple and complex tasks are still very expensive.
Fear of Skynet: The fear of “Skynet” – the AI company that took over the human world in the iconic film Terminator –is real. Our government is working feverishly to legislate and regulate against a similar dystopian nightmare. More on this in a future article.
Consider using artificial intelligence in your business
For now, you owe it to your business and your customers to explore these AI tools. In our economy where both time and money matter, AI will help both. Note that no AI tool was used in writing this article!
About the author
Neil Hare is a solicitor and president GVC Strategies, she specializes in small business policy, advocacy and communications campaigns; follow him on Twitter @nehare and continues LinkedIn. See more of Neil’s articles and full bio AllBusiness.com.
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