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Published 09 August 2023
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5 Ways You Can Use AI to Support Your Small Business

While many of us have a basic understanding of artificial intelligence, or AI, owners of small businesses are not necessarily making the most of it. Here are some easy ways AI can facilitate your day-to-day business activities.

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Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been in the news because of the risks it may pose to the public if it’s not regulated. Used in the right way, however, this technology can benefit small businesses. 

Generative AI tools, which create content in response to prompts, can cut the time you spend on dull, repetitive tasks, boost your marketing and improve the way you interact with customers, so you can focus on more important areas of your business. 

An April Business Insights and Conditions Survey from the Office for National Statistics found that only 16% of businesses across the UK are currently using at least one kind of AI technology. However, this number is set to grow, according to a survey this year by HSBC, which found that one in four UK businesses is now looking into AI.

If you’re ready to embrace AI, here’s our guide to how to start using it in five key areas of your business.

1. Carry out market research

Market research is an important practice for businesses, and AI can make it a much more efficient process. A natural language processing tool driven by generative AI, such as ChatGPT or Google Bard, will allow you to ask questions and receive detailed analyses about your business sector that can help you evaluate opportunities for your company to grow. 

Rather than spending time trawling the internet, you can simply ask an AI tool to gather relevant data for you. Once you have that, you can use AI to analyse this data and quickly compile detailed reports.

For example, Bridget Greenwood, founder of The Bigger Pie, an organisation that provides training and networking for women in emerging tech, uses ChatGPT to research new markets for her business. “It has proven invaluable for gaining industry-specific knowledge and insights,” she says. “ChatGPT’s vast knowledge base enables us to seek guidance on data from specific industries, ask questions and receive well-informed responses.”

2. Access skills you don’t have 

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of AI tools is how they can allow you to access skills that may otherwise be out of reach. This benefit could be particularly useful in the early stages of your business if you don’t possess a certain skill set and are not in a position to hire someone who does.

For example, Greenwood has used two AI tools to produce impactful presentations when she’s pitching for new business. “[ChatGPT] has been transformative, refining my communication, brainstorming ideas and creating compelling pitch decks for my clients,” she says. “Additionally, we discovered Gamma App, which streamlined our presentation creation process, resulting in visually stunning slides.”

3. Improve customer service

Some AI tools with natural language processing are revolutionising the way that businesses interact with customers, doing far more than simply automating certain aspects of the customer service journey.

Chatbots, also known as virtual assistants, are a popular online tool for businesses, particularly for answering routine queries or directing customers to resources. They are programmed to recognise certain phrases and respond to them, but AI can take customer communication to the next level.

Energy company Octopus, for example, now uses AI software to write around a third of its emails to customers. And it seems that customers are happier receiving a response written with AI. Greg Jackson, Octopus’s chief executive, reported in May that in the 16 weeks AI had been used, these emails scored an 80% customer satisfaction rate compared with a 65% score for those written by skilled workers.

If you own a smaller company or startup, you may prefer to respond directly to customer service queries. But you can still use AI to support your engagement with customers. For example, it could help you craft responses to questions or gather consumer insights from customer feedback.

4. Create content

AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Adobe Firefly and Pictory (to name just a few), can generate engaging content across mediums from video to the written word. 

Hannah Dawson, designer and founder of independent jewellery brand Clover & Swift, uses generative AI to write product descriptions and post on social media. “I input a quick description and make any alterations, and it saves me so much time,” she says. 

While Dawson currently uses ChatGPT, she is very open to other AI tools – “anything that makes my life easier,” she says.

5. Boost efficiency

By automating mundane or repetitive tasks, you can free up time to focus on more critical elements of managing a business.

Stampli’s Billy the Bot, for example, can help automate payments, giving businesses more time to dedicate to creative or strategic tasks that require greater attention.

Similarly, in-depth data can be quickly analysed by AI to draw out key insights – a task that could take hours manually. AI tools can then use predictive analytics to forecast future trends, such as demand and supply.

“The benefits we’ve experienced from using AI tools have been exceptional. We’ve witnessed a tenfold increase in productivity, allowing us to accomplish more in less time,” Bridget Greenwood says.

Drawbacks of using AI in your business

As with any new technology, there will be challenges to consider before exploring and using these tools. 

Smaller businesses may find it expensive to set up and maintain an AI project if they want to go beyond using free tools, such as Bard and ChatGPT, and need a more dedicated process. To get an idea of cost, small businesses were spending £9,500 on average in 2020, according to government analysis of AI use in businesses. 

Another reservation people may have is that the data AI collects is not necessarily fact-checked. AI language models are trained using data from various sources, including the internet, so they have the potential to contain inaccurate responses. Plus, some AI tools do not provide up-to-date information. The standard version of ChatGPT, for example, doesn’t have access to data after September 2021. 

There is also a potential for bias. “One of our primary concerns is the potential for AI models to perpetuate biases present in the data they are trained on,” Greenwood says.

In addition, there are also questions about intellectual property rights and the uniqueness of work generated by AI. While ChatGPT says that it has measures in place to ensure that the same prompt from different users will create different results, it admits that there may still be similarities in its output. It’s a good idea to take this into account when using ChatGPT and tools like it to generate original content.

Image source: Getty Images

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