Artificial Intelligence offers small businesses unrivaled opportunity to become more efficient, profitable and effective. But the cost of implementation can represent a huge barrier to entry. It’s treated as risky and untested; a technology for bigger businesses who have the budget to hire machine learning experts and uproot tech infrastructures. But AI is actually more affordable and accessible than ever before. A ton of new out-the-box AI tools now are enabling small businesses to enjoy automation without the price tag or commitment of traditional solutions. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
What is out-the-box AI?
Generally speaking, custom AI software entails a lot of hard work and research effort – requiring resources that the vast majority of small businesses simply don’t have. So, for small businesses with limited data and resources, these custom AI tools are not always a viable option. In contrast, out-the-box AI tools are usually developed to address specific business needs at a much lower cost.
These “ready-made” AI tools let small businesses test out automation across different parts of their operation without committing to an infrastructure overhaul. Instead of promising to solve all your problems, out-the-box AI are usually specialist – performing one task extremely well. This can be anything from automating invoicing to timesheet creation (see our top picks below).
Most out-the-box AI tools use a subscription model, preceded by a free trial period. So, if your business doesn’t see the value of a specific tool after the free trial, you don’t have to keep using it. While there’s less scope to tailor the AI to your set-up, out-the-box AI tools offer a simple and quick route to automation. You don’t have to endure endless meetings or infrastructure reviews to get started – just download and go, adjusting preferences where needed.
Getting started with out-the-box AI
While these tools may offer “ready-made” AI, they still require a bit of direction from us to get going. AI is intelligent, but not innately; it needs to learn your habits and behaviors to work the way you want it to. Most out-the-box tools require users to qualify an algorithm’s outputs – to effectively approve or reject its suggestions to teach it what you want it to do.
This 4-step process behind Timely’s automatic time tracking lays out what this process looks like. The training period for out-the-box AI varies from tool to tool, but you should start receiving intelligent automated results in your first week of interaction. After all, if you have to work too hard to get it working, AI software companies wouldn’t make much money!
But what about cost? What sort of price should you expect to pay for an out-the-box AI? As you’d hope, it’s much more affordable than a custom-made AI. Starting packages tend to be priced under $10 per month per user, with the most feature-rich bundles increasing that to around $20. The beauty of the subscription model is that you can start off with a smaller package, and only pay the higher price for more features when you can prove the value of the additional expense.
The best out-the-box AI tools for small business
You can now automate most parts of small business operation – whether you’re interested in standardizing customer service quality or outsourcing essential business admin. To give you a few ideas of what automation can do, here are a few of our favorite out-the-box AI tools.
Legal support is far more accessible nowadays thanks to this slick AI tool. Legal Robot helps you understand what you sign, deciphering the complex world of legal contracts – essential for any business. Powered by NLP and deep learning, Legal Robot creates sophisticated legal models from large database of contracts and covers a broad range of scenarios. So for anyone who’s not a legal expert (most of us) this AI tool is terrific at making legal language easier to digest. It also improves the readability of your own contracts, so your employees are fully aware of what they’re signing, and compliance is up to scratch.
How much time do you spend manually logging time for different clients and projects? With Timely, you can reduce that from hours to minutes by automating time tracking and timesheet creation. It automatically records everything you work on to a private timeline, and uses AI to process this information and create draft timesheet entries for you. Smart extras, like Projects and People, make it easy to track budget spend across all your clients and ensure everyone is working to your priorities.
Bold360 is one of the most savvy and intelligent web chatbots out there, using its own natural language processing technology that can understand your customers’ intent without the need for keyword matching. It can remember the extent of an entire conversation while responding in a “human” way - even in its own predetermined personality! Better still, customers can even purchase products through the chatbots.
If you regularly work with freelancers or external contractors, you’ll want to try out Sage AP Automation. It automates the recording of both outgoing and incoming expenses and does your banking reconciliation for you, too. You can spend less energy and time chasing figures and manually entering data, and be confident that your books add up.
Despite being painfully unproductive, email doesn’t seem to be going anywhere just yet. But with tools like AiZimov, you can apply clever automation to reduce the time you spend on it. Its AI analyzes your contacts, pulling data from social media, to assign them specific psychological profiles. Based on these, it can then prepare natural personalized emails which tap into their values and attitudes – helping you craft effective emails that actually land.