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AI and Small Business: The Future is Now

4 Mins read

Change is sometimes frightening for small business owners. We work hard to ensure the livelihoods of our employees and other stakeholders. We don’t always follow the trends set by big businesses, nor should we. It’s expensive to implement so-called innovations that can seem to lose relevance (and usefulness) as rapidly as they’re developed. When one first hears about artificial intelligence (AI), it’s normal to be both curious and skeptical.

It sounds like something out of a movie–a movie that probably ends with the threat of human extinction. But now we see the headlines and commercials every day about big businesses like Microsoft using AI. We’ve seen images generated by AI, and even heard an AI Johnny Cash sing the 90s pop hit “I’m a Barbie Girl.” And it makes you question if AI is just another trend…or here to stay. 

After a lot of research and conversation, a conclusion is clear: for small business owners, AI is not just another trend, nor is it only useful for big businesses. It offers both immediate benefits and exciting possibilities in the future for SMB owners everywhere.

Here’s how to get started with AI at your small business. Let’s begin with definitions.

What is AI?  

Broadly put, AI is the field of computer science focused on teaching computers to mimic human thinking and learning. The term AI can refer to various technologies, including machine learning, neural networks, and generative AI. 

You’ve probably heard of ChatGPT. ChatGPT is an example of both generative AI, and a large language model. ChatGPT was built to understand human language and generate text in response to human-produced prompts.

Imagine you have to draft a lengthy report, or a grant application, or an important email. ChatGPT can assist you in tasks like these, but only if you learn how to prompt it effectively. ChatGPT’s “intelligence” lies in its ability to understand language, but it’s best to imagine it as a tool that can be picked up or put down by humans. If you choose to pick it up, you’re choosing to use arguably the most complex and promising tool of all time. 

How are small businesses partnering with AI now? 

Big businesses always dominate headlines, but smart small businesses have been using AI for all kinds of reasons since its introduction. Here are a few examples you may want to consider.. 

AI for better customer service

  • AI can provide or enhance customer service for your clients through applications developed by companies such as Zendesk or Salesforce. For example, many small businesses have a website featuring an FAQ page, or an employee whose job it is to answer customer calls or emails. Recent advances in AI’s speech recognition capabilities and usability make it easy for SMBs to use it to provide helpful answers to customer questions. Plus, AI is available around the clock.

AI for generating content

  • AI can help your business generate text, video, images, sounds, and more, for marketing or other purposes. For example, your business might have a social media manager. You could train them to use DALL-E 3 and Google Bard to generate images or text for social media posts, which could save time, and enable your business to post more frequently, or in more places, than before. 

AI for problem solving or brainstorming

  • Learning how to interact with AI can help small businesses discover new ideas, solve complex problems, and gain new insights. The technology that powers AI is cutting-edge, and unique in comparison to human thought. Employees at all levels of businesses can learn how to interact with AI to conduct research, brainstorm ideas, and expand the sense of what’s possible for their business.

How might small businesses use AI in the future? 

Experts speculate that in the future, as humans learn how to safely and effectively use AI in the workplace, businesses will increasingly trust AI to not only carry out instructions, but also to make independent decisions. 

For instance, currently AI could help research a vacation by:

  • Finding good flights and accommodations
  • Determining the best time to visit
  • Recommending what to do during the visit.

In the future, it may be able to:

  • Book flights
  • Reserve hotels
  • Order food to be delivered for each meal
  • Handle email communications while you’re away
  • Make sure your lawn is watered perfectly
  • And more!

The implications of speculation like this are serious for businesses both big and small. For now, it’s no exaggeration to say that small business owners should monitor the emerging AI marketplace, and seek to be early adopters of AI as it becomes more available. 

AI at Arvo

Here at Arvo Tech, our mission is to expand access to employment tax credits for SMBs. We are actively discussing how we can use AI to do that better. In addition to the possibilities discussed above, we are excited about the way AI could improve the products we offer our clients. 

What do I mean by that? We currently give our clients reports and other data that describes how they can optimize their participation in employment tax credit programs such as WOTC. For instance, we might analyze a client’s WOTC enrollment rate and notice that it is lower than it could be. In response, we write a report with specific recommendations for improving the enrollment rate. The problem is, one report might not fit all depending on the client’s industry or location. 

We want to use AI to understand our clients so well that our reports and other deliverables are perfectly tailored to their industry, location, and more. This could both massively improve our product, and expand our capacity. For instance, AI could help us effectively serve clients who speak any language, without the need of a translator. 

Exciting future possibilities like these motivate us to learn to use AI in whatever way we can today. 

More than a trend

AI is too useful and promising to fade away. As with any new technology, growing pains may be involved, and it is necessary to educate yourself about using AI safely. However, evidence is already growing in support of AI’s positive impact on small business. I’ve personally decided to learn how to use it for myself, and to train my employees to do the same. I recommend that you do the same. 

Like coffee, the combustion engine, the internet, and your smartphone, it may soon be difficult to imagine living and working without this revolutionary technology.

Terracina Maxwell is the President and Co-Founder, Arvo Tech + Todd Fox, 

Future stock image by PopTika/Shutterstock

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