The economy is getting colder. AI technology is heating up. Some waves that started during the pandemic are weakening (like virtual events), while others are as strong as ever (like staffing challenges and opportunities).
So how can entrepreneurs overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by the current environment? Tune in as Keap Co-founder and CEO Clate Mask sits down with five small business owners to find out.
The panelists are:
Anthony Howard, HR Certified LLC, Atlanta, Georgia
Scott Proposki, ScottProposki.com, Andover, Massachusetts
Jeff Schultz, Root Assets, Tucson, Arizona
Renée Boudakian, Rapid Marketing Strategies, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Carla Erskin, Bossingly.com - Dallas, Texas
Clate begins by setting the stage with an important perspective about trends and economic shifts.
“There's a lot of noise out there about what the economic conditions mean for small businesses,” says Clate.
“As entrepreneurs we can make our reality, we can create the outcomes that we want. We don't have to be beholden to the economy. It is wise for us to acknowledge and be aware of what's going on so that, whatever those trends are, we can play off of them. In every business, you can find ways to take advantage of what the current economic climate is.”
This perspective isn’t just blue-sky thinking. Over the course of the hour-long discussion, multiple examples came through of how the same circumstances were a negative for one business but a positive for another.
Over the course of the discussion, three trends bubbled up to the surface:
The economic slowdown requires small businesses to adapt, reposition, and refocus
Opportunities and challenges continue regarding staffing and talent
AI technology presents a huge opportunity for both automation and personalization
How the economic slowdown is affecting small businesses
For many businesses, changes in the economy means that methods that used to work don’t work anymore. As a result, small businesses owners need to pivot, explore new possibilities, and focus on what works.
“Old playbooks are expired. Keeping your finger on the pulse has been the challenge because there's different rhythms going on,” says Anthony Howard, owner of HR Certified LLC. “I started off with just virtual courses, and now I am also moving to providing community to my clients as well. That has been a major win and it allows us to give personalization to our clients.”
“For us, the challenge right now, or as I like to try and think of it in my entrepreneurial brain — the opportunity — is our lead generation efforts,” says Renée Boudakian, owner of Rapid Marketing Strategies.
“We know the worst number in businesses is one, whether you’re relying on one client or one lead source,” Renée explains. “Our lead generation, which was working really well, was lot of virtual events. What we're seeing now is that people are not attending as many virtual events. We’re overcoming that by reinventing ourselves, by diversifying, by looking at more lead generation sources. We can't just rely on one source.”
Carla Erskin, owner of Bossingly, a coaching business that helps service-based entrepreneurs run their businesses more productively, also finds that online events aren’t working well anymore.
“My online events were one of the major transaction models that I used, and now they're just not working anymore,” says Carla. “So now I am going to where the clients already are and partnering and leveraging relationships to get in front of my target audience.”
Carla has also found that clients have become more concerned about spending.
“Where I would get an easy yes just six months or a year ago, now I’m getting these responses of ‘we're not spending right now, we're slowing down,’” Carla relates. “It’s definitely a concern, but it's exciting as well because that forced me to look at other business models like the membership model, where the cost of entry is so much lower.”
However, for some businesses, the economic contraction has led to opportunities.
Scott Proposki, a photographer who helps other photographers master the business side of their freelance work, says, “I believe this is a perfect storm for people like myself who are coaches, people that are looking to help somebody else, because this is the time they actually need it.”
Jeff Schultz, owner of Root Assets, a financial services company, says, “Actually, because of the nature of our business, the economy actually helped propel a lot of our aspects of our businesses. People are trying to save money, trying to look for better ways.”
Clate called out some common themes the business owners are using to adapt to changing economic conditions:
Adapting by asking “What is needed now?” and listening to customers
Focusing on what works and targeting the best customers
Positioning the company’s services as a solution to the problems prospects are facing because of the economic changes
Identifying opportunities, from new lead gen sources to using AI and small business automation
Getting more efficient with resources and tactics
Hiring challenges and opportunities in a post-COVID economy
While the economic slowdown has been a boon to Jeff, the shift in the talent pool has not — but he’s not letting that get in his way.
“Probably our biggest challenge is staffing,” says Jeff. “I think that across the board, ever since COVID, people have kind of branched out on their own, they've come out with their own ideas, they want to work for themselves.”
Jeff goes on to explain that the issue isn’t that people want more money, the challenge is finding people who are qualified.
“And I don't think it's a bad thing,” Jeff adds. “We have actually pivoted to automation and AI technology.”
For Renée, shifts in the talent pool have presented a huge opportunity.
“There's a lot of access to some amazing talent out there,” says Renée. “The changes that happened have allowed us more access to talent and removed a lot of geographic boundaries or restrictions. For us, it's been an incredible time to bring on new team members and expand our team with some incredible talent that I think previously we wouldn't have had access to.”
Why business owners need to understand and adapt to AI
While there are mixed opinions in the general population about AI and its implications, this group of small business owners proved to be enthusiastic early adopters of the technology.
“We have fully embraced AI,” says Jeff. He loves AI and automation technology because, “They don't take days off, they don't have bad days, and they don't have to be in front of one person at a time. They can be in a million different homes all simultaneously. It starts with the Keap automation system, and then we use a product that allows us to do AI content creation.”
Jeff has also been able to stop running A/B tests thanks to AI. “We can run it through a predictor first and it will tell us what the general outcome of any ad campaigns are going to be. So now we're not wasting time going well, did A work or did B work? We already know and we tweak it before it ever reaches the general public.”
Scott finds that tools like ChatGPT and Canva help artists create marketing assets very quickly. “What I find is creative people, they're not going to create the landing page, they're not going to create the content for a lead magnet. So we're able to use ChatGPT and actually write an ebook for them in less than an hour. And use Canva to create the cover of this amazing book that they wrote as a great unique offer for their landing page.”
Carla uses AI to create quick little mini courses in less than an hour.
Renée, whose company already invests in Keap’s CRM and marketing automation software, video conferencing software, accounting software, etc., sees AI as another great investment.
“I think that those who are jumping on and trying to figure out how to leverage AI are gonna be ahead. I think it's not about AI replacing people, but I think it's about how people who use AI can have the potential to replace people who don't.”
Anthony encourages business owners to embrace AI, yet still incorporate the human element.
“Hey, AI is your friend, you need to lean in,” says Anthony. “Don't let it bypass you, because if it does, you'll get left behind. But be aware of not losing the personalization. Your voice still needs to resonate in this AI stuff.”
Clate echoes this sentiment and goes on to add that AI can provide a lot of the content, but that, “you have to put stories and personalization and the stuff that actually connects with people in order to have it be something that people really desire.”
For small businesses owners who are reluctant to jump on the AI bandwagon, the entrepreneurs shared this wisdom.
“We leverage these technologies and tools so that we can create the work life balance that we need as business owners,” explains Carla. “And if you're not leveraging these tools, you're missing out on the things that you want to do — spending time with your family, having time for self care, and growing as a business owner in personal development areas.”
Renée echoes this enthusiasm. “The best time to start using automation technology was ten years ago,” she says. “The second best time is right now.”
Making AI work for your marketing
The group kept coming back to how to use technology in a human way.
“You have the internet, you have Google, you have all these people just saying information, but who's the content creator who makes it real?” asks Scott.
“That's why people like working with small businesses,” says Clate. “It's personal. Small business owners make it real. These days, it’s harder for people to see what's real, it's harder for people to have a true relationship. It's hard because of the ubiquity of information. It's calling for entrepreneurs and business owners to make it real for their clients, to create a relationship, to have something that is meaningful to them, which has really always been the draw of small business. It's personal.”