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How AI is transforming the way small businesses grow

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Depending on your interests and experience level, you might view AI as a borderline-magical solution with the potential to not only transform how business is done but also transform our lives in general, or as overrated and overhyped buzzword that gets bandied about with little understanding of what it actually involves. Either way, you’d have something of a point — the truth, as is often the case, lies in the middle.

AI isn’t close to magical, at least in its current practical incarnation. It’s a practical tool that’s incredibly useful in some cases but not so much in others. But it is profoundly significant, even at this early stage of its development, so anyone who suspects that it will disappear from discussions once another buzzword comes along is way off the mark.

As I type this, huge corporations across the globe are using AI-led systems to achieve incredible operational improvements — but it isn’t something that only the mega-rich can implement. The availability of AI methods is transforming how small businesses grow. Allow me to explain:

1. It greatly improves analytics

The importance of the insight that can be derived from analytics cannot be overstated, particularly during the earliest growth stages of a business. Consider that long-term decisions must be made based on relatively-little feedback. The more accurately you can parse that feedback, the more sensible your decisions will be.

Using an AI analytics suite, you can produce predictions about the future of your business model with a level of accuracy that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. If you’re not in a position to expand, you need to know as soon as possible so you can protect your capital and wait until a better opportunity arises. It may seem overwhelming at first, but a solution such as IBM’s Cognos Analytics offers this kind of functionality.

2. Enhances operational automation

Scaling isn’t just about having a good business model. It’s also about having enough free time and energy to look past daily activity and concentrate on expansion, something that’s easier said than done. Small businesses tend to have small teams, often requiring the business owner to take manual control of various basic tasks. That prevents them from doing vital sales work.

Standard automation is already extremely sophisticated and capable of making life so much easier. There’s Buffer for queuing social media, Wave Payroll for scheduling salaries, Wordstream for simplifying PPC, etc. But AI has the power to take things to the next level, adding machine learning to the mix to enable superior long-term optimization. Enhanced by AI algorithms, these automation tools will keep getting stronger.

3. Creating new recruitment options

Recruitment is at the core of growing a business, because the people you hire will come to define your business. Choose well, and you’ll see excellent growth — chose poorly, and you won’t last for very long. Even so, the recruitment process is long and frustrating, and can take up enormous amounts of time and focus.

With so many viable avenues for finding new recruits (social media channels, conventional job websites, personal websites, and so on), it simply isn’t practical to conduct a thorough job search manually. But add AI to the mix, and you can achieve a significant uptick in efficiency. Tools like Arya are already in use, bringing together countless candidate sources and filtering them to produce optimal results: the best candidates with the most convenient interview times.

4. Improving the sales funnel

Bringing in new sales, as noted, is the key to growth. Achieving business stability is only the first step — if you can’t win over bigger and better clients, you’ll stay exactly where you are. And bringing in new sales, just like recruitment, is a matter of playing the numbers game with superlative efficiency. You need a lengthy sales funnel taking possible clients from from their very first expressions of interest to their contract signings.

Again, this is too much work to be handled manually, even by an entire sales department. With a tool like FunnelAI constantly scanning social media for relevant keywords, matching needs to solutions, and pushing conversations wherever useful, you can focus your effort on high-profile sales targets that will be challenging to win over, leaving the software to deal with the lower-priority leads that keep you afloat.

AI in the form of machine learning has been a practical solution for quite some time now, but this is just the beginning. In the coming years, additional uses will be found for existing technology, and new technology will emerge to change the game further still. Because of this, it’s a great time to run a small business.

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Anurag

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