5 easy ways AI can help grow your small business

Every small business can reap the benefits of artificial intelligence. These tips will help even those who are unsure get started.

Most SMEs are already using artificial intelligence (AI), even if they're not aware of it. For example, if you're using a financial management tool, such as Xero, MYOB or Rounded, you're already getting AI's help to keep your accounts in order. Email-automation tools also run on AI and it's increasingly easy to customise an AI chatbot to bring 24/7 customer service to your small business.

When you use Google Maps for navigation, you're benefiting from AI already embedded in the app, while also helping it get better because AI learns on the job.

Australia's National AI Centre (NAIC) offers a raft of free resources to help SMEs adopt AI, knowing they don't have the IT resources of larger companies. Signing up for one of the million government-funded "scholarships" for TAFE's Introduction to AI course is a good place to start. Rather than a technical course, it's a self-paced micro skill that takes you through the fundamentals of AI, from common terminologies around the technology to Australian case studies and advice from industry experts.

"The barrier to entry is thinking that you have to understand AI to be able to use it and that's not true," says CommBank's Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Andrew McMullan. "A lot of big organisations around the world have invested a lot of money to make AI accessible and understandable." Embracing AI can bring a game-changing assistant into your business. Here are five ways you can deploy AI to support you and your small business, some of them free and most of them simple enough to try right away.

Put ChatGPT to work

The late-2022 launch of OpenAI's tool ChatGPT famously brought the world's attention to AI, even though artificial intelligence has been around for decades. It's known as a large-language model or LLM, trained on all manner of information that's been digitised. While it's not perfect (just Google "ChatGPT hallucinates"), it's a genuinely amazing tool. The best way to get going is to play around with, trying different prompts (what you want it to do) for a variety of tasks. Get ChatGPT to write the first draft of an email, feed it some existing content and ask it to turn it into five social media posts or the text for a poster. It can even write simple code if you're at that level. The more you refine the prompts, the more useful you'll find the results it gives back to you (almost instantly!). There are paid levels, but many SMEs will find the free version more than adequate.

Build your own AI team

"Can I help you?" customer-service chatbots have been popping up on websites for years. It might seem like they're out of your league but it's absolutely viable for SMEs to have their own custom AI chatbots, too. And wait – more AI agents are standing by! Relevance AI is an Australian software-as-a-service start-up that enables companies to design and build their own AI workforce across a wide spectrum of tasks, running on data from LLMs. "You can use Relevance AI agents to automate content generation, research and business development," says founder Jacky Koh.

Get tools to do the work

AI eats repetitive tasks for lunch, without taking a break. You may already be using automation tools to send out emails to customers, using it to automate newsletter subscriptions, segment your audience and personalise communications. Intelligent robotic process automation (RPA) can take care of invoice processing. "If you find yourself constantly doing really manual and repetitive tasks, you should start looking at AI to help you streamline and automate some of that," says Koh.

Generate instant meeting notes

You may have seen Teams, Zoom and Google Meet offering real-time transcriptions. Even if you're not in such a meeting, there are plenty of tools that make note-taking simple. Otter.ai records audio as well as creating a text transcript and can be used in a web browser or smartphone app. It even offers a summary of the meeting or conversation. It's an example of a job AI can do that means the people previously tasked with taking minutes can contribute their human intelligence to the discussion rather than scribbling furiously.

Supercharge your social media

AI algorithms are central to the success of Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, making sure the apps serve exactly the kind of content that will keep a particular user scrolling and coming back for more. Using an AI tool for social-media management can lower your costs and improve your posts. It can schedule campaigns, monitor brand mentions and sentiment across social media in real time, write your content and even predict whether it has the potential to go viral. Check out some of the top tools – such as Canva, HubSpot, Hootsuite and Sprout Social – and see which one is right for your needs.

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