It's really hard to keep up with AI. Even as an AI company, it's hard to keep up. For an SMB, it likely feels like an insurmountable challenge. Every day, there's a new AI tool, a breakthrough, or a vendor claiming to have the panacea for all business woes. As a result, small business owners often find themselves in a conundrum - navigating through a labyrinth of AI jargon, options, and possibilities - or just throw up their hands and say “I'll wait another day (or month or year) to figure it out.”
The crux of the matter isn't just about what AI can do. For small businesses, the right question is what AI should do for them. Identifying and addressing specific business needs is paramount. The AI implementation strategy must be tailored not just to the industry but to the unique challenges, needs, and strengths of each business.
The Criteria for AI Implementation
So how do you choose what AI should do for you? Here are three criteria to consider (as an aside, some of this will feel “duh, obvious”, but it's the combination of all three that can help you make the most of AI.)
a. Determine What Your Business Needs the Most Help With
AI is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Every small business has unique needs and challenges. Begin by pinpointing the specific areas where your business could benefit from automation or enhanced efficiency. Is it customer service, inventory management, or perhaps marketing? Don't worry at this point what AI can or can't do. Just assume that someone out there has created AI to solve your problem, whatever it is.
b. Prioritize What You're Not Already Good At
…and also what you don't like to do. If you're not good at something and you don't really enjoy doing it, the likelihood that you're going to suddenly solve it is really low. This is probably a really good opportunity for AI to help.
c. Know what you can't (or don't want) to Hire People For
The job market is really good for employers right now, especially for some knowledge worker categories. However, you may want to avoid the risk and cost of recruiting, onboarding, or even finding a great contractor. In many cases, AI can be a cost-effective alternative, especially for tasks that are unpredictable or don't require a full-time role.
Once you go through parts a through c, then you're in a much more informed position to know exactly what kind of AI tool you want. Then you can go to various AI directories (there are tons out there, but here's one we like: https://www.futurepedia.io/) to find the right tool for you. (Note the risk of starting through Google is that it prioritizes paid searches vs. actually solving your need.)
Example: SMB who needs to qualify leads
Consider a scenario where a small business is inundated with leads but is too engaged in core business activities to qualify and schedule them effectively (and they also don't like doing it!). Hiring an employee might not be feasible due to the unpredictable nature of the work and the costs involved. Here, an AI solution like HeyLibby (currently free) can be invaluable.
HeyLibby specializes in qualifying leads and scheduling them, ensuring that the business doesn't miss out on potential clients while also focusing on their core competencies. It's a practical example of AI meeting a specific business need, filling a skills gap, and offering a cost-effective solution.
For small businesses venturing into the AI landscape, the journey should be less about the glittering allure of technology and more about pragmatic business needs. By focusing on what your business needs help with, acknowledging what you're not already good at, and identifying areas expensive to hire for, you can pinpoint the AI solutions that align with your business goals.
AI is not about the future; it's about the present. It's not about possibilities; it's about specific, tangible, and actionable solutions that can drive your business forward, one intelligent step at a time.
(As another aside, we're not good at writing blog posts from scratch, so ChatGPT helped a lot with this article, and it also created the non-heylibby images above!)