AI for Small Businesses: Part 1

business partners on a laptop

What is AI? We’ve seen it in countless TV shows, movies, and books. From R2-D2 and C3PO wandering the desert to Arnold Schwarzneggar’s T-800 declaring, “I’ll be back,” intelligent machines have long been a staple of science fiction—except now, the “fiction” part is becoming a thing of the past.

Unless you’ve been living off the grid for the last few years, you’ve heard the term “AI” (or Artificial Intelligence) frequently. After all, it’s taking the world by storm and shaking up industries in some pretty significant ways. The entertainment, restaurant, industrial, and even marketing fields are being affected by it. People are utilizing AI for small businesses wherever they can to improve processes and products, and why wouldn’t they? It can be a huge time saver and help you run your business! But as with any technology, how to use AI for small businesses is a skill that requires practice as well as trial and error.

It isn’t just about typing in prompts and using exactly what AI spits out. It’s about making the effort to learn the ins and outs so you can realize its full potential for your business. Using AI for the sake of using AI won’t help you in the long run, so let’s go over the knowledge you’ll need to know how to use AI—more specifically, how to use artificial intelligence for businesses. 

How It Works

We don’t want to bore you with too much technical stuff, but a general understanding of how these systems work can help you utilize these tools better.

Machine Learning

Machine learning enables computers to teach themselves using data and its patterns. Say your friend is trying to perfect a cake recipe, and they’re using you as their test subject. They bake several cakes that are slightly different. Some have more sugar, while others use different icing.

After you try out each cake, your friend asks for your opinion. You give feedback like, “This needs more sugar,” and your friend adjusts the ingredients to take that into account. With enough recipes and feedback, they refine their recipe to make the perfect cake. That’s the general process the machine learning model uses.

Deep Learning

Deep learning is a subset of machine learning that focuses on neural networks that are modeled after the human brain. Essentially, it goes through a learning process similar to our own. There’s a lot of trial and error that helps it learn and improve based on its mistakes.

Say you want to teach a computer how to play Pac-Man. Before deep learning, you’d have to tell all of the rules in excruciating detail. Now, you’d simply tell it to play the game until it got the hang of it. It would start out moving randomly, collecting a few dots by accident and getting killed by the ghosts. But it would learn from those experiences; eating dots is good and ghosts are bad. Eventually, the computer would get really good at the game. It would develop strategies to avoid the ghosts, learn the ideal routes to take, and teach itself how to maximize its score.

The processes that drive this kind of AI learning come together to achieve a huge array of things. Image and speech recognition, healthcare diagnostics, and natural language processing (NLP) are all able to be handled by a deep learning model. Speaking of natural language processing…

Natural Language Processing

Using AI for small businesses relies heavily on Natural Language Processing (NLP). This is how computers are able to understand and generate language in a way that makes sense. If everything we’ve discussed so far is what powers C-3PO’s “brain,” NLP is what helps him speak his mind!

In order to understand Anakin Skywalker (his creator), C-3PO used data available to him to learn things like sentence structure, word classification, and implied meaning and generate coherent words based on them. His artificial brain formed thoughts as data, and that data was translated into audible words that Anakin could understand. Thus, they were able to have conversations! 

Identifying Your Business Needs

Now that you have a basic understanding of how AI works, let’s take the first step to utilizing it to help your business. Before you even begin to type AI prompts, you need to identify what your business goals actually are.

Assess Your Challenges

What does your business’s current landscape look like? What are your pain points and where could you improve? Consider all of these things and imagine the possible solutions you could implement with the help of AI. Whether it’s improving your processes, better understanding your customers, or bolstering your product offerings, there’s a use for AI here!

Define Your Objectives

What do you want to achieve by implementing AI? SMART goals are probably something you’re familiar with, so let’s start there. Make sure your objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. As an example, you could set a goal of increasing customer engagement by twenty percent within four months by using recommendations from AI.

Blend AI With Your Overall Business Strategy

AI initiatives should never replace your processes. Rather, they should be used to bolster your existing ones and align with your business strategy. Integrating it into your big vision helps it become a valuable addition rather than a pet project.

Next Month: Implementing AI for Small Businesses

The inner-workings of artificial intelligence are complicated and technical. We hope you stuck with us through that, because in part 2, we’ll get to the even better stuff! You’ll learn to use your understanding of AI to improve your processes!

In the meantime, we’d love to answer any questions you have about artificial intelligence for businesses or marketing in general. Reach out and strike up a conversation!