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  • Alcea

How AI can help small businesses

In this article, we are focusing on the artificial intelligence tools that can help and support small businesses. We’ll cover a range of topics from finances through to HR, to helping your customers. If listening is more your thing, then check out the AI Life Tools podcast episode on How AI can help small businesses – available on Spotify now.


Every small business is the story of a dream becoming a reality, but often (and speaking as a small business owner myself), there aren’t enough hours in the day to get to the end of the to do list. there is a need to be an expert in everything from payroll to HR to logistics to marketing, so any help to make achieving these varied tasks a little easier and a little quicker can be a lifesaver for small business owners. This is one of the things that got me started on AI in the first place, finding new ways of working, quicker ways to achieve my tasks, and a collaborator who works 24/7.


So, let us look here at an overview of some of the tasks and AI tools that are ready to go.


Marketing

Marketing is the obvious place to start because it’s one of the things all businesses have to do, but it can be challenging, costly, and time-consuming. If you’re marketing your business there’s a very high probability that you’re already using AI in some form. Social media channels use AI marketing to curate feeds, show customers products and preferences and check images when tagged. And when you pay for advertising on social network channels, the tools designed to help you personalise and target key groups or customer types will all be supported by AI data tools on customers.


Marketers are one of the most open professions to adopting AI, according to Entrepreneur magazine in 2020 84% of marketers had adopted AI into their working practices. The marketing pipeline itself is one that uses significant amounts of data and analysis as well as creative tools so it’s well placed to use the new tools in a variety of ways.


From writing emails to designing new marketing materials, there are lots of AI tools out there to help the non-professional expert look like a professional marketer.


· Brevo is a tool where you can either pick and choose or use the full suite of services. It helps you build relationships with your customers in multiple ways including email, SMS and chat. With a full sales platform option and the option for BrevoPlus to tailor to your exact marketing needs, Brevo can scale as you grow your business.


· Google Analytics is totally free and easy to access and use. If you need to understand your customers then this is the tool that can help you to do it. It’ll show you who’s visiting your website, when and how they engage. To take it to the next level try another free Google tool, Google Search Console which will help you find out what problems there are with your site.

· Canva is not a graphic designer but if you want your brand materials to look top-notch look no further. Canva is one of the go-to tools for all things visual design. From social media posts and newsletters to presentations and business reports Canva provides an easy-to-use platform and has a dedicated business section to help with a range of activities, including productivity, workflows, to asset managing and team collaboration.


· Hootsuite has been around for a while now and is used by many larger companies like Ikea and Domino’s and the World Health Organization. But, it can also be useful for smaller companies by giving them access to the level of depth and capability such an established tool has to offer. Hootsuite offers a range of marketing services, from publishing content to analysing the results, it’s robust and has scaled, but it does come with a price tag attached. By using AI to schedule posts, analyse engagement metrics, and manage social media accounts efficiently, there is a lot of data a small business can gather using this tool to help it identify customers, how they want to be reached and how effective the marketing you’re doing is.


· HubSpot is an alternative option for an all in one marketing tool. Like Hootsuite and Brevo the aim here is to connect marketing with sales, customer service and content. This is all about creating marketing campaigns with content that’ll reach your customers.


· Intuit Mailchimp I know I know, we’ve all heard from Mailchimp but did you know it’s gone full on AI these days? Now there are over 20 AI and data tools to choose from that’ll help you create email campaigns, customise as you go, develop new designs and review the performance to help you to tweak and reach customers. With a range of pricing options, including free ones, this is a tool many of us know that has embraced AI to make it even more effective.


Bookkeeping and managing money

Managing cashflow, sending out invoices (and making sure they’re paid), making sure payments to staff and suppliers are paid on time is critical for a small business, so here are a range of tools all designed to help simplify the cashflow process.


· QuickBooks is an online accounting software tool that is well known. Designed for small businesses it now offers a range of services based on the type of business owner you are, sole trader, limited companies and accountants all get their own specific areas of services and products. There’s a range of pricing options depending on the type of support you want. There’s also a blog aimed at sharing information specifically for small businesses.


· Xero is an online accounting software tool that automates admin tasks, tracks cashflow and will send invoices out automatically. There’s also an option for inventory software to see in real-time what stock you’ve got. With a tiered set of payment options depending on the scale of your business and the level of support you’re after Xero that offers all aspects for small businesses to succeed.


· Are you a freelancer? Then FreshBooks might be of special interest to you. Designed for the one-person-band so to speak, FreshBooks helps freelancers or solo-operated businesses to have professional-looking invoices and services without the full range of services offered by the likes of QuickBooks or Xero.


· For the small businesses out there that are some way between wanting or needing all the bells and whistles of QuickBooks and the like but aren’t sold on FreshBooks, then Sage Business Cloud Accounting might be the one for you. It is affordable. And it’s a solution that is straightforward in what it delivers; it’ll track your payments and make and send invoices. It is designed for a single user and the costs are increased if you want to add more. Likewise, there are add-ons you can choose but they’ll cost extra.


HR, managing work and developing new ways of working

Even with a small business hiring, firing, supporting and managing employees can be time-consuming and a bit of a minefield to get right. So, naturally, there’s a range of AI tools that have been designed to help you.


· Projects come in all shapes and sizes and ClickUp is designed to keep all your tasks, dashboards and documents in one place. This is a cloud-based system that is designed to scale from a one-person band through SME’s to larger companies. With over 100 AI tools that are grouped into departments, whatever you need the likelihood of it being found in ClickUp is pretty high.


· Need an app for your small business but don’t want a run of the mill template? Then Bricabrac could be worth checking out. Just describe the app you want and in theory, Bricabrac does the rest (full disclosure I’ve not tired it myself as yet). All without the usual cost of a developer.


· Grammarly is no longer just checking grammar. Grammarly Business can help you draft a job description to drafting emails and coming up with fresh ideas with just a prompt.


· Lattice offers dedicated small business services to helping manage staff performance and removes manual processes, keeping things streamlined and easily accessible. From managing performance via one-to-one meetings to reviewing pay and getting feedback from teams, Lattice is a one-stop shop for managing people and teams.


This has been a bit of a dash through AI tools designed to help small businesses save time and connect with their customers. There’s more to come in this space, so it’s definitely a topic I’ll be coming back to as the technology is changing so rapidly.


If you would like any advice on how AI can support and solve problems for your small business contact Alcea today.

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