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AI is not just chatbots and cybersecurity

The following is adapted from AI as Your Teammate.

If you do a search query on “AI for small business”, most of the returning suggestions are for articles like “put a chatbot on your website” and “enhance your cybersecurity with AI”. Another small fraction of articles suggests that you “start by understanding your data” and “know your bottlenecks”.

While these items are undoubtedly valuable, they don’t give you much useful information to get started with AI for small businesses. right now. In my opinion, this is a problem. AI for small businesses isn’t just about chatbots and cybersecurity, and starting with “understanding your data” and “uncovering bottlenecks” sounds like a recipe for many meetings that never go anywhere.

The good news is that you can Get started with AI today, no matter your business size or industry. By using tools like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms and Zapier, you can automate everything from small tasks to full business processes. without any code. This, in turn, will save you a lot of time and allow you and your team to grow your business faster without having to add more people to your payroll.

Using AI for Small Business Transformation

SaaS platforms are ubiquitous today. These are all the services for which one can pay a monthly fee and then easily access the service over the Internet.

You use SaaS platforms all the time. E-mail; QuickBooks; file storage, such as Dropbox; communication platforms like Slack or Teams; Zoom; payment processing, such as Stripe; CRMs, like Pipedrive and Salesforce; and project management tools, like Asana or Trello, are all examples of SaaS programs.

SaaS platforms have been nothing short of transformative. Take a file storage tool, such as Dropbox, for example. Before Dropbox, everything was on paper. There were storage rooms full of filing cabinets and organization codes to find every paper in the room.

If a colleague misplaced a file, it was a mad rush to find the original. Then Dropbox came along and launched online file storage and sharing through the cloud. Now you can access any of your files anytime from anywhere in the world.

Harness the power of SaaS in your business

As transformative as SaaS platforms are, by leveraging them together you can exponentially increase their value to you. To understand why, think about your processes now. How many of your or your employees’ tasks require taking data from one SaaS platform and doing something with it in another?

Let me give a few examples:

  • When a new customer signs up, send them an email.
  • When a verbal agreement is reached with a prospect, send a contract.
  • Turn TypeForm responses into a pivot table for data analysis.
  • Add a new customer in QuickBooks.
  • Post a copy of the marketing email on LinkedIn.
  • Transcribe a video and add subtitles.
  • Add a Zoom link to your calendar invitations.
  • Add new customers to your mailing list.

Instead of your employees taking your data from one platform and doing something with it on another, what if a computer did it for you? Can you imagine the time and effort you would save?

The good news is that a computer can absolutely do all of these things for you, using a technology called an API. APIs (which AI tools like Zapier use) are a way to leverage modern technology to allow different software to talk to each other. In other words, using a tool like Zapier gives you the ability to tell your SaaS platforms, “If something happens on platform X, take action on platform Y “.

Create an activity log

The first step in automating any task is to know which tasks need to be performed all the time. I recommend that your team keep a diary of their work routine. On an Excel spreadsheet, have each person create five columns:

  1. Task
  2. Why did you do it?
  3. Time required to complete the task
  4. On a scale of one to five, where one means “I hated every second of it” and five means “I really enjoyed that task,” rank your satisfaction with the task.
  5. Number of times this task has occurred this week

The number of times the task has occurred in a week is an important metric for building an AI system for small businesses. Imagine a task that takes five minutes, happens 12 times a week, and is relatively easy to automate. This automation would save an employee one hour per week, or an entire week of work per year. This automation saves a lot of time and can move up the priority list.

On the other hand, if a task takes 25 minutes, happens once a week, and is relatively difficult to automate, it may not be high on the priority list.

When calculating time spent on a task, it is important to consider task switching penalties. These are hidden time wasters that cannot be excluded from the value of automation. If a task is automated, there is also no task switching penalty. My recommendation is to multiply the time a task usually takes by 1.33. If a task takes 10 minutes, assume it was 13 minutes. We often find that task switching penalties alone are enough to justify the cost of automations.

The trigger and the action

Every Zapier automation has two components: a trigger and an action. The trigger is the starting gun for automation. When the trigger fires, the automation runs. The action is the automation itself.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that in the activity log, the trigger is the question “Why did you perform this task?” and the action is “What have you done?” In other words, if the task is “Send an email to a new customer”, then the trigger is “new customer created”.

Let’s say the time spent on this task is 7 minutes, and it happens three times a week. In this case, automating this task saves hours each year (per employee).

Zapier (which can accommodate any email service) allows you to send the message to the email address the customer used to sign up for your service and use the first name on the payment processor to speak directly to the email recipient, then add the body of the copy—automatically.

It is easy to do. And, most importantly, your team members recoup hours each year that they can devote to creating greater value.

The possibilities of AI are endless

This is far from the only task Zapier can help you automate. Imagine using Slack for communication and Stripe for payment processing. Also, let’s say you send a personal note to each new customer thanking them for doing business with you.

To accomplish this task without a tool like Zapier, you need to check Stripe daily to see if new customers have signed up. This means you log in to Stripe, navigate to the “customers” section, and view the list. If there is a new customer (and there may not be), you copy the email address, open your email, paste the address into your email “To:” , add a subject line, type the email and hit send.

Let’s say this task takes 12 minutes (five minutes to check for a new customer and seven minutes to send the email). Considering task switching penalties, this takes 15 minutes. What if you could win those 15 minutes?

With AI technology like Zapier, you can. It’s as simple as connecting Slack and Stripe using Zapier to receive a Slack message whenever a new customer is created in Stripe.

This automation would save you 15 minutes. Suppose also that you check the data of new customers every day. Now you just gained 75 minutes per week. This saving, multiplied by 50 weeks of work per year, means that you have just recovered more than a week and a half!

You can automate tasks immediately

Sticking with the example above, what if you discover that your customer retention has increased by 50% by sending another personalized message to this new client a few weeks later? You could add to your automation!

That’s what we did. We started using tools like Zapier to send engaging emails as a customer signed up for a service. Throughout the trial, customers heard from us regularly a few days a week, and at least once a week for the first 90 days. Our customer loyalty has exploded. Almost all of this work was done using automated tools.

These automations are available now and require no code to be written. Anyone, even the most non-technical employees in your company, can automate tasks today.

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