How Machine Learning Can Help Your Small Business


Mention machine learning in conversation and most people automatically start imagining self-aware robots or malevolent computers. But if you’ve ever misspelled a word in your search request with Google but still found yourself sorting through a selection of relevant, correct results - despite your typo - you’ve experienced machine learning. 

Thankfully, machine learning is no longer the stuff of Will Smith movies. Instead, machine learning - the process by which computer algorithms seek out patterns in data and then predict the most reasonable outcome - is an easily accessible tool that can benefit your small business in a variety of ways. 

Chatbots 

Fueled by machine learning, chatbots build on natural language processing to respond to a customer’s typed request with accuracy and relevance. They read and interpret the user request and react accordingly. And because machine learning is adaptive, chatbots can remember answers making the user experience more personalized and effective with each new comment. 

You’ve likely experienced chatbots across a variety of different business areas including customer service, bill payments, flight booking, or weather forecasts. The great thing about chatbots is that you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science to create one. A quick web search will help you uncover several services, like Flow XO, who can help you get your chatbot up and running in no time and with minimal expense (which comes in handy if you’re trying to run a profitable business). 

Predictive Shopping 

From global sites like Amazon to small e-commerce platforms, machine learning is everywhere offering up recommended items for potential customers based on search history or past shopping cart selections. And customers respond to the experience positively, frequently increasing their purchase amounts or with repeat visits to your website. 

Think of it this way: remember the last time you searched for something online? Let's say you were looking for social media tips or best practices. If you were, then the next time you visited a site like Google or Amazon, ads for social media tips & best practices would have popped up on your screen. That personalization - having a relevant ad for the right customer - is all thanks to machine learning. 

Drowning In Data 

From customer demographics to web analytics and everything in between, small businesses today are drowning in data. Keeping up to date on analysis and applicable takeaways is nearly impossible. 

Thanks to advancements in machine learning that allow you to choose from a variety of cloud-based services, you no longer need to employ a team of dedicated data scientists to make sense of it all. At my company, ZipBooks, for example, we employ machine learning in our accounting software to auto-categorize transactions for our small business customers—they don’t have to do it themselves, because we’ve invested in it. 

The days of fundamental data analysis requiring extensive computing facilities are thankfully gone. Cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) has replaced them at substantial savings. Furthermore, as increased numbers of tech developers are putting their efforts, and money, into machine learning development, the advantages of increased accessibility benefit the overall business landscape. 

Just a few years ago, voicing a request to an in-house personal assistant or asking your phone to recommend a new restaurant for a special event felt other-worldly and just a bit too science-fictiony for most businesses. But today, Siri, Alexa, and their counterparts are an integral part of our daily life and culture playing an essential role in our everyday lives. 

No system is perfect for every business, but machine learning can go a long way to dramatically assist your customer attraction, search engine optimization, conversion, and retention helping to grow your small business. 




Author Profile: Jaren Nichols is Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks. Jaren was previously a Product Manager at Google and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. 


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