Small businesses are turning to AI during a labor shortage

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Nearly two years after the term “great quit” was coined, many companies are still struggling to hire enough workers amid a historically tight job market. This is especially true for small business owners, who are increasingly taking a page from Silicon Valley by enlisting artificial intelligence to get the job done.

Main Street companies are considering AI as an alternative to the rising labor costs many of which have been threatening to close for months. Their adoption of the technology will be a significant shift from how AI is currently used – mostly by large companies with larger and more sophisticated resources.

While only 11% of small business owners have tried AI to power their operations, 57% said they’re keen to see how generative AI products like ChatGPT can improve their business, according to a survey released Thursday by GoDaddy, an internet services company. GoDaddy interviewed 1,003 small business owners in April for the survey.

Owners interested in implementing AI will likely be encouraged by results in other small businesses that have already experimented with the technology. Three-quarters of companies that have used AI tools say they have done at least as well, with only 4% saying their business has suffered as a result.

“Small entrepreneurs are quickly discovering that generative AI is already well-equipped to help them with the tasks they find difficult to tackle, either because they don’t have the time or need skills outside their wheelhouse,” Gaurav Pani, president of US Independents covers American Entrepreneurship At GoDaddy, in a statement.

Most owners said AI helped them delegate specific tasks such as marketing, content writing, and customer service responses, freeing them from other important responsibilities such as increasing customers and revenue. It speaks to a larger trend in which companies are exploring how AI tools like ChatGPT and its equivalents developed by tech giants Microsoft and Google can automate their most repetitive and common tasks.

A report in February by job-consulting platform ResumeBuilder found that about half of business leaders were implementing ChatGPT, and that half of those had already used it to replace some employees, whose tasks included coding, content creation, and customer support. Almost all of the companies surveyed said the strategy was saving them money, with 48% saying they’d saved more than $50,000 and 11% saying they’d saved more than $100,000.

Artificial intelligence can be a game-changer for small businesses, too. Nearly half of small businesses had at least one job opening in April, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Federation of Independent Business, a small business association. But the report found that consumer spending remains strong, which means small businesses are still desperate for workers to keep up with demand.

Among the biggest employment problems facing small business owners is the lack of quality workers and the high cost of hiring. Raw material and wage inflation has been one of the main concerns of small business owners since last year, according to the Chamber of Commerce, and the recent banking crisis has also led to concerns about lending by small and regional banks, which are their lifeblood. Small business can dry up in a credit crunch.

“The job market continues to be a huge challenge for small business owners,” Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist at NFIB, said in a statement accompanying this month’s report. “More owners are raising their compensation to compete, but labor quality remains a serious issue for owners.”

AI can help alleviate some of these pressures, although educational tools to help small businesses integrate AI into their operations would likely be beneficial, since the majority of owners are still unfamiliar with the technology. Only 33% of GoDaddy survey respondents said they could explain generative AI to a friend, while owners over 55, who in 2021 owned half of small businesses in the US, were by far the group least likely to experiment. Amnesty International

AI companies and experts have tried to bridge the gap and distance small business owners from the benefits of the technology. Even in 2021, the Chamber of Commerce has been working with small and medium-sized businesses to communicate how AI can help entrepreneurs improve customer service, recruiting strategies, and marketing. Earlier this month, Microsoft released a guide for how small businesses in particular can use AI and educational tools to implement it.

Small companies are notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, but their smaller size also makes them more agile, so that when they decide to adopt a new technology, it doesn’t take long to make an impact. The GoDaddy survey suggested that if familiarity with AI improves, it could be the bridge helping small businesses find their footing in today’s job market.

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