The Small Business Guide to AI (Part 2)

To recap on Part One AI or Artificial Intelligence is everywhere; all over the news, the papers, social media, whatever our information gathering platform of choice it is there. Within my industry mainly excitement, outside mainly fear, but there is one thing for certain it is coming.

In Part One went through the different types of AI available to us, so how do we not only prepare but show our clients and customers we are a forward thinking, future embracing business?

Where to start

The first thing to do is take stock of what we have, look at what our business consists of and where it could be improved. To do this decide on the key people to be involved in the discussions, a voice from different areas of the businesses will give a good rounded view.

post its

Preparation

Each of these AI Investigators need to gather their teams and  surface as much information as they can on what they do, broken down into process, reporting and outcome. In a small business it may well be that these are one person teams anyway, so recapping on all their responsibilities and documenting what they generate.

Workshop

Arrange a 2 day internal meeting (this is a workshop style meeting, no sales presentations, long speeches or top down directives) where everyone is to roll up their sleeves and get involved. Make sure you have large sheets of paper (A2), a long roll of brown packaging paper, lots of sharpies or marker pens, post it notes and white tack. (blue marks!)

Day 1

We are looking at the business through

  • Information
  • Processes
  • Marketing
  • Sales

Information. What data does the business generate or collect, what format does it come in, how is it stored, what is it used for and what reports are generated.

Having just written a guide to small business GDPR there may be some helpful points in personal data gathering.

Processes. Can be split in to service processes (client facing) and admin processes (internal). It is worth starting with a list of every service offered and admin task so this process phase is exhaustive.

Draw the flow of each process from start to finish annotating the stages with requirements, influences, methods, circumstances and outcomes needed to carry out the process. For example if your business was car cleaning it would look something like this.

 Small Business Workshop Brainstorming

Small Business Workshop Brainstorming

Marketing . This is the area that probably uses some form of automation or AI already. Make a list of all marketing streams. Eg:

  • Social media; facebook, twitter, instagram
  • Online advertising; facebook, google ppc, yell.com
  • Off-line advertising
  • Blogging
  • PR
  • Events
  • Sponsorship
  • Etc

Follow the process of each of these streams as above documenting the stages, inputs, responsibilities, insights and gains. Give each a rating score of how measurable they are and what return on investment they yield.

Sales. Similar to both the above, sales also have a process so make a list of all sales funnels. Follow the process of each of these avenues documenting the research, input, resource, repetition, time scale, and success rate

When you have mapped each of these processes – and there is no reason why you can't break them into chunks holding a sales & marketing workshop, a business process workshop and so forth – you are ready to start Day 2.

Day 2

Preparation

To prepare draw up the flow diagrams for each process, seeing if they fit in to core phases, ie; perhaps ‘Research, Planning, Implementation, Delivery’  and attach to the wall of your workshop.

 Flow Diagram

Flow Diagram

Session 1. Ideation (half day)

Start to brainstorm ideas of how to improve each process – I have created a Worksheet to help distil these ideas – the crux of it is for each person to team up with a partner and ‘define the problem’ discussing each ’problem statement’ as a full team and then alone creating 6 serious ‘solutions’ or ‘improvements’ for each and 4 out there ones. This does not need to be anchored in AI at this stage just blue sky thinking, quick fire ideas from all the workshop participants, written on post-its and stuck to the wall at the point the idea ‘improves’ a process.

Session 2. Diagnostics  (half day)

Do these solutions fit in to a certain phase, are they centred on a type of process, are there better ways to share information across departments? What can be drawn from these ideas? Distil your findings into 5 key areas of investigation.

The most likely result will be updating processes to involve software and systems that link up and streamline the different processes, saving time and giving insight to grow or refine the business.

This exercise is not to reduce staff, unless you particularly want it to be. But instead to understand where data (which is really just information) is being gathered, making plans to capture and store the data in the best way allowing it to be indexed and reported on thus giving a better understanding of all your processes and from that use predictions and forecasts to tap into new markets, enable growth and learn from your own information.

AI Use Cases

  • For example if you made a move to Salesforce they use AI to help generate better sales documenting the flow and ‘heat’ of a lead.

  • If you use Crowdfire or Hootsuite, these use smart technology to amalgamate all your social media in one place suggesting posts and reposts to build an audience and generate deeper engagement.

  • Hubspot uses machine learning to build relationships getting the most from inbound marketing; giving insights on your best  posts, adding lead generation, assessing and generating more and better leads with a ‘human’ feel.

  • Mailchimp or sms providers lets you automate emails or texts so that each client can be reminded of their next car wash say.

  • Amy – a virtual PA – will schedule your day for you booking in appointments planning the distance and journey time between each. (Finally what computers promised us!)

  • Survey monkey use analytics and algorithms to provide actionable insights and fresh perspectives from surveys and questionnaires.

  • Facebook messenger allows (non coders) to set up chat bots to answer simple questions and help clients with answers. For out of hours support, customer service and FAQ.

  • Google analytics is a ever growing tool to capture the behaviour of your audience using AI to ‘get smarter’ and distil insight to usable information.

  • Predictive analytics – although having a bad rap recently – used correctly and ethically is inextricably linked with AI and a powerful addition to human decision making.

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Abi Fawcus is a freelance UX Consultant, Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.