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Five Ways AI Can Help Small Businesses (Beyond Smart CRMs)

January 28, 2021

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been creatively integrated in hundreds of affordable tools that can help small business owners reach new heights in 2021.  

This was not always the case. Until recently, AI was considered bad for small businesses. Critics pointed out that it helped larger corporations that could afford to use it pull further away from the Mom-and-Pop operations that couldn’t. AI was harnessed by national brands like Walgreens, which built a custom, AI-powered program to analyze the age and gender of store customers using its price scanners to give them instant shopping recommendations. How’s a small, local pharmacy supposed to compete with that?

What is AI?

AI is the ability of computers to gain knowledge and apply that knowledge to tasks. Computers learn by analyzing patterns in extremely large sets of data. The 2010s witnessed an AI gold rush when CEOs realized the game-changing potential of the technology. From cybersecurity programs that prevented data breaches by picking up minute blips of irregular activity to real estate programs that forecasted housing values years in advance, complex, custom-built AI tools that cost millions of dollars rapidly entered the scene.  

Related: Getting From Hesitation to Automation: 10 Reasons You Should Automate

As time passed, it became evident that certain algorithms were requested over and over again. Data scientists decided to package these as “out-of-the-box” tools that served as affordable alternatives to customized AI algorithms created for larger businesses.

AI, now that it’s accessible, aligns quite perfectly with small business inbound marketing strategy and small business needs. That’s because AI empowers small business owners to truly get to know their customers and create relevant experiences for each of them. Machine learning can also help small businesses by simplifying processes that until now were difficult or even impossible for a small staff to master. With the right AI-powered programs, any small business owner can become an HR or legal expert.

A small business owner’s first taste of AI is typically delivered by their Customer Relationship Management software (CRM). Many CRMs use automation or other simple AI processes. This is, however, just a tiny morsel compared to the many impressive AI tools out there.

In the spirit of thinking outside the box in 2021, therefore, here are five out-of-the-box AI solutions that a small business owner or their Virtual Assistant can implement today:

1. Chatbots

Chatbots have become the poster children for out-of-the-box AI, and why not? After all, up to 40% of a business website’s traffic visits after hours and AI offers a cost-effective, customer-pleasing solution. Drift is the #1 marketing and sales chatbot. You might notice that Drift is definitely geared towards larger-scale operations, and unsurprisingly counts giants like GrubHub among its clients.

For small businesses, Bold360 is a fantastic alternative. This intelligent chatbot remembers the full conversation (not just the contact’s last sentence) and uses natural language processing technology. This means that Bold360 isn’t keyword-dependent. If a contact writes about bats as well as pitchers and third base, it knows that she’s writing about baseball, not little flying mammals.

2. Smarter Email Automation

AiZimov matches addresses in your email list to social media profiles, gaining a deeper understanding of your contacts so that you can better match them to your business personas (or use the data to rethink your business personas entirely).

3. AI Hiring Tools

ZipRecruiter is the most well-known AI-powered hiring tool. Much like a Match.com for HR, it prompts you to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to each prospect it suggests, using your input to find better matches in the future. Other AI programs like Vervoe use smart textual analysis to scour multiple databases for precisely the expertise you’re looking for. When you approve one of Vervoe’s prospects, it sends them a sophisticated skills assessment to verify that the skills listed on their resume are accurate and current.

4. AI for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It used to be that online content creation was more of an art than a science. With over two hundred factors affecting page rank and the average piece of content not maturing in rank until over three months after it’s posted, it was difficult to isolate what works from what doesn’t. Not anymore. With MarketMuse, a small business owner can get precise content recommendations specific to her website. Best of all, MarketMuse’s AI can even write a rough draft for you.

Related: Stay Ahead of the SEO Game: Why You Should Care About SEO

5. AI Legal Tools

Legal Robot translates legalese into plain English, helping small business owners understand what they’re actually signing. It also works in the reverse, helping you create and execute employment contracts, buying contacts, and other legal documents.

Implementing AI Tools For Your Small Business

Before getting started with AI, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Successful machine learning algorithms require human oversight and a constant supply of new data. A small business should have an organized, detail-oriented, and tech-savvy person in mind who can take responsibility for launching and maintaining the program. Hiring a Virtual Assistant for that role is ideal because he or she will be able to dedicate as few or as many hours per week as you need as your AI strategy evolves.  

It is worth noting that embracing AI will probably not allow you to reduce your number of staff. It almost certainly will, however, allow you and your staff to work more productively towards meeting all of your small business goals. 


 

Ready to get started with automation and using AI technology for your small business? A virtual assistant can help! Start a trial today. 

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About the Author

Vera Nash

Vera is an innovative, creative virtual assistant who excels at strategic planning and content creation. She honed her analytic thinking skills in her academic career. As her friend put it, teaching U.S. History at Tulane University was “perfect for someone who loves reading books and hates making money.” Vera made ends meet by taking part-time work. She became an SEO copywriter and later a nonprofit grant writer. Unexpectedly, supporting small nonprofits and small businesses captured her heart. Vera discovered that helping people communicate their vision is her passion. She also gained invaluable on-the-job training in database design and management, social media, and strategic planning. Vera is committed to always going the extra mile at Trusty Oak to make sure that her clients meet their goals.

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