Operating a small business is nothin’ small. It’s not just the huge risk you take starting a business—it’s also the blood, sweat, and tears that go into keeping things running smoothly and attracting more of your target customers. And with things like the looming economic downturn, the Great Resignation, and post-pandemic pressures, it’s no wonder that small businesses have been feeling the heat. (Let’s not bring climate change into this, huh?)
We wanted to know how these folks are surviving (even thriving) in this weird, wild economic time—so we asked ‘em. In Break Free: The State of AI Marketing for Small Business, we polled 400 people in the United States and Canada on the most pressing challenges they face marketing their small businesses and learned how they’re using technology to bounce back.
But what are these challenges, exactly? And can you and other small businesses break free of them once and for all?
New solutions to old small business problems
With all that’s happened in the world over the past few years, it’s tough to find a small business that hasn’t faced some serious challenges. The people we spoke to said they’re being crushed by inflation, supply chain issues, and high taxes. They’re struggling to find workers. They’re nervous about their big-name competitors and feel like they don’t have the resources to keep up.
But small businesses aren’t strangers to change. They’ve been navigating budget and staffing challenges for as long as they’ve been around. And today, technology—and especially AI—is helping them turn the tables, addressing key issues that (in the past) might’ve been the difference between closin’ up shop or opening another one.
The problem: Small budgets are holding businesses back
We weren’t surprised to learn that budgets are a big concern for lots of small businesses. More than half of our respondents (51%) said they don’t have the money they need to market themselves effectively. In fact, budgets are the most pressing issue most small businesses face in marketing. Only a third said they didn’t have the employees (39%) or the time (34%) to properly advertise their business.
Obviously, budget is a consideration for all marketers—not just those working at smaller companies. But these businesses might not have the option to just “reduce our PPC spend this week” or “scale this campaign back.” Instead, digital marketing gets dropped entirely when it should be a core focus of their growth. So, how can small businesses find ways to run lean marketing campaigns that still get them results?
The solution: Stretch your marketing budget with AI
Our research shows that roughly a third (31%) of small businesses in North America are adopting AI today. If you’re new to the whole AI thing, here’s what it all means: Marketers get to pair their hard-earned marketing knowledge with artificial intelligence that can analyze and act on huge amounts of data instantly.
(No, it wouldn’t make a great buddy cop movie—but it does mean these marketers can improve their results without increasing their costs.)
Almost all of the businesses we spoke to (92%) say that AI-powered tools decrease marketing costs. And that’s supported by the numbers, too. Of the companies that spend less than $1000 on their marketing in a year, roughly a third (32%) are using AI while only a tenth (12%) are not.
Small businesses are able to stretch their marketing budget thanks to AI—and as a result, the myths of AI-powered tools being unaffordable are goin’ out the window.
The problem: Retaining talent is more difficult than ever
Finding the right talent is tough—and these days, keeping it is even tougher. Between the Great Resignation and “quiet quitting,” companies struggle to attract and retain good marketers. Almost half of small businesses (49%) say that current employment trends are holding them back.
Finding specialized expertise is even more difficult, especially for small businesses. Almost two-thirds of respondents (60%) said that either lack of expertise in digital marketing techniques or tools was their biggest marketing challenge.
As a result, small businesses often turn to marketing generalists—people who can perform a wide range of marketing activities, but don’t necessarily have the expertise to help these businesses maximize their budgets. Marketing generalists are usually a more cost-effective choice for small businesses, saving them the time and energy of finding more specialized talent.
But marketing generalists come with costs of their own. A lack of marketing expertise can keep small businesses from growing at a healthy pace.
The solution: Use AI-powered tools to fill knowledge gaps
Our research shows that many smaller companies are using AI tools to make up for gaps in their marketing expertise. Businesses that have adopted AI tend to perform a broader range of marketing activities than their counterparts who haven’t. SEO, PPC, email—across the board, AI seems to be giving small businesses an edge.
The reason? AI-powered tools are making a lot of these marketing tasks easier. They take less time, cost less money, and require less expertise. As a result, small businesses can expand their marketing scope and run the sorta campaigns you’d typically see from their larger competitors.
Another area where a lack of expertise can be a problem is analytics and data. (Always a point of contention for marketers). Our respondents said that AI-powered tools often do a lot of the heavy number-crunching, making it easier for small businesses to interpret data and put it into action. Two-thirds (63%) of AI adopters say they always use data insights to inform their marketing decisions.
Today, small businesses are closing the gaps in knowledge and expertise by tapping into AI-powered marketing tools—yes, including landing page builders—to get the job done. They’re cutting down on extra headcount, costs, and time while also taking advantage of the simplified, actionable insights AI tools can provide.
Small businesses win when they adapt first
Life Small business, uh, finds a way.” — Jeff Goldblum, Jurrasic Park
We said it earlier: Small businesses are no strangers to change. But even with everything we’ve been through over the past few years, there’s plenty of uncertainty ahead—and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that businesses need to be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. The difference between thriving and surviving during times of change is not only to adapt—but to adapt first.
AI adoption is helping small businesses make the most of their budgets, giving them more time back in their day and filling in the gaps in their expertise. Using AI-powered tools to augment your business is no longer just a future-friendly move—it’s a necessary step in your small business moving past the trials and tribulations and getting to the triumphant part already.
Whether you’re still recovering from the pandemic years or are already on your way to business recovery, you’ve gotta be ready for what’s next. Check out Break Free: The State of AI Marketing for Small Business to better prepare for the challenges unique to small businesses like yours.