AI isn’t Just Chatbots and Cybersecurity

The following is adapted from AI as Your Teammate.

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

While those things are undoubtedly valuable, they don’t give you much useful information for getting started with AI for small business right now. In my opinion, that’s a problem. AI for small business is more than just chatbots and cybersecurity, and getting started by “understanding your data” and “discovering bottlenecks” sounds like a recipe for lots of meetings that never go anywhere.

The good news is that you can get started with AI today, no matter what size business you have or what industry you’re in. By using tools like software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms and Zapier, you can automate anything from small tasks to entire business processes without any code. That, in turn, will save you tons of time and free 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 any services where one can pay a monthly fee, then access the service readily over the internet. 

You use SaaS platforms all the time. Email; 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, as an example. Before Dropbox, everything was on paper. There were storage rooms full of file boxes and organization codes to find every single paper in the room. 

If a coworker misplaced a file, it was a wild goose chase to find the original. Then, Dropbox came along and released online file storage and sharing via the cloud. Now, you can access any of your files from anywhere in the world at any time.

Harness the Power of SaaS in Your Business

As transformative as SaaS platforms are, by harnessing them together, you can exponentially increase how valuable they are to you. To see 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?

Allow me to provide 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 into QuickBooks.
  • Post marketing email copy on LinkedIn.
  • Transcribe a video and add captions.
  • Add a Zoom link to your calendar invites.
  • Add new customers to your email list.

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

The good news is a computer can absolutely do all these things for you, using technology called an API. APIs (which AI tools like Zapier use) are a way to leverage modern technology to allow different pieces of 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 in platform X, do an action in platform Y.”

Create an Activity Log

The first step in automating any task is knowing what tasks consistently need to be completed. I recommend having your team keep a log of their job routine. On an Excel spreadsheet, have each person create five columns:

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

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

On the flip side, if a task takes 25 minutes, occurs once per week, and is relatively difficult to automate, it may not be high on the priority list.

When calculating time spent on a task, it’s important to address task switching penalties. These are hidden time wasters that cannot be excluded from the value of the automation. If a task is automated, there’s also no task switching penalty. My recommendation is to multiply the amount of 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 are enough, on their own, to justify the cost for automations.

The Trigger and the Action

Each Zapier automation has two components: a trigger and an action. The trigger is the starting gun for the automation. When the trigger is activated, 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 do this task?” and the action is “What did you do?” In other words, if the task is, “Sent 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 per week. In that 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 client used to sign up for your service and use the first name on the payment processor to directly address the email recipient, then add the body copy—automatically. 

It’s easy to do. And, even more importantly, your team members get hours back each year that they can spend on creating bigger value.

The AI Possibilities are Endless

This is far from the only task that Zapier can help you automate. Imagine you use Slack for communication and Stripe for payment processing. Furthermore, 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 any new customers signed up. That means you log into Stripe, navigate to the “customers” section, and check the list. If there’s a new customer (and there may not be), you copy the email address, open your email, paste the address into your email “To:” spot, add a subject line, type the email, and press send.

Let’s say that task takes 12 minutes (five minutes to check to see if there’s a new customer, and seven minutes to get the email sent). Accounting for task switching penalties, it takes 15 minutes. What if you could save those 15 minutes?

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

This automation would save you 15 minutes. Let’s also assume you check new client data every day. Now, you just saved 75 minutes per week. This savings, times 50 working weeks per year, means you just got over a week and a half back!

You Can Automate Tasks Immediately

Staying with the example above, what if you discovered that your customer retention increased by 50 percent by sending another personalized note 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 on a drip the moment a customer signed up for a service. Through the trial, clients heard from us consistently a few days per week, and at least once per week for the first 90 days. Our customer retention went through the roof. Almost all this work was done using automated tools.

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

Evan Ryan

Evan Ryan is the founder of Teammate AI, helping entrepreneurs scale their businesses using artificial intelligence. Teammate has launched and powered businesses such as Lede AI and ContentX, which use AI to write, edit, and publish content—all without human intervention. Over the past five years, Teammate has helped hundreds of businesses save millions of hours by using AI in everything from small tasks to complex, multi-day processes. Evan spends most of his time showing entrepreneurs how to save time with AI and designing solutions that help teams stop being human computers and start creating bigger, more dynamic value. Learn more at TeammateAI.com.

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