Like many small business owners, I spent a lot of time in 2023 considering how I wanted to integrate artificial intelligence into my content agency, iHartContent.
At first, my instinct was to join “Team No AI” and to ignore it altogether. As a writer, the fear of tools like ChatGPT is entirely understandable. After all, it can spit out an entire blog post in mere moments. It’s natural to worry about being replaced.
But as I watched this emerging technology continue to evolve—and began to see the many ways founders in other industries were beginning to use it—I decided to instead take a “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” approach. I wanted to learn everything I could about AI to help me understand if it was really going to cause the existential crisis I imagined.
Over time, I realized that the answer is no: AI isn’t a threat to me. At least not anytime soon. For one, the quality of content creation just isn’t there yet. These tools require human input and finesse to get useful results. Anything that people are doing with AI isn’t so much AI-created as it is AI-assisted.
That’s when I started to fully grasp the opportunity in AI: Learning to work well with these tools could be a boon to my business, and I could even use them to serve my clients in a way that allowed me to be a more valuable partner (instead of replacing me).
This approach to integrating AI helped my agency achieve our first multi-six-figure milestone in 2023. It’s become so valuable that I’ve launched a new line of business to help others learn how to work alongside AI. And none of this would have happened if I had continued to shun it.
For other business owners who are feeling hesitant about integrating AI, here are three ways I’ve used it this year to grow my business, and how I plan to continue evolving these approaches into 2024.
I’m using AI to open up time to work on my business instead of in my business
My agency, like so many businesses, has always faced the “cobbler’s children have no shoes” problem: While we’re on top of our clients’ marketing, content, and social media needs, our channels used to get almost no attention.
Once we started using AI to clear operational bottlenecks and streamline the content creation process, I was able to deliver the same high level of service for our clients while also having time to spend on my own business development.
For example, we started using ChatGPT to batch topic brainstorming, assist us in outlining, and do initial rounds of content edits for our clients. It’s important to note that we always cleared the use of AI tools with our clients ahead of time and didn’t use them for any clients who were against it. Still, most people were comfortable with our thoughtful use of this technology, and these new processes were soon saving me about eight hours a week, minimum.
That’s an entire workday freed up for tasks like building out our own online presence, client acquisition, and finding new ways to grow my business instead of only serving our existing clients.
In 2024, we’re going to look for more ways to streamline processes and to educate our customers on how to do some of this themselves. That might feel like exactly what I was afraid of—teaching my clients to use AI so they don’t need me—but I see it as a way to build more value. For instance, if our clients can easily write on-brand communications that’s not included in their package with us, it makes all of their content look more unified and, therefore, more successful.
Educating them also shows the work that we put into using AI, so they don’t feel like they should be able to pay us less just because we’re integrating these tools. It’s still a very human process that requires specific expertise, and we should be paid well for bringing that to the table.
On top of opening up time to work on my business, AI has helped me execute business development tasks.
Early on, we used it in obvious ways, like to support our brand copywriting or using it to help us map out three to six month content calendars for ourselves and our clients.
As the year went on, however, we started using it more for higher-level tasks, from financial planning and projections to strategy development to diving deep into our own branding and messaging. I think this is the real superpower of chat-based AI agents: Using them as thought partners for business strategy.
For instance, when we were struggling to meet our financial goal for a quarter, I outlined what we were aiming for and everything we were doing to achieve it in ChatGPT, and asked what additional approaches we could consider.
Over the course of a long brainstorming chat, we came up with some tactics that ultimately helped us not only hit our goal, but exceed it. Some of the tactics included identifying ways to better leverage the unique strengths and skills of my existing team, strategies for changing the pricing structure of our service offerings, additional “low-hanging fruit” opportunities for high value add-on services, and even ideas for cutting expenses.
There’s limitless possibilities for ways you can use AI to strategize around your business, and since you can use natural language with it, you can just have a conversation like you might with a team member. It’s gotten to the point where anytime I encounter an issue I don’t know how to approach, my first response is to go to ChatGPT to help guide my thinking.
I’m using AI to coach me through setting our company vision
A few months ago, I was feeling really stuck with the business: Not motivated or fulfilled with the work we were doing. But I couldn’t really put a finger on why that was or precisely how I wanted to pivot or improve.
One night, in desperation, I turned to ChatGPT and gave it the role of a business coach, explaining my situation and asking it to give me thought-provoking questions to get to the bottom of my rut. Through the course of an hours-long conversation, we got to the point where I identified that I felt the work we were doing was not contributing to the world in a positive way.
We weren’t causing harm—we were already very selective about our clients—but wanted to raise the voices of people who were actively making the world a better place.
With this goal in mind, ChatGPT then helped me outline a plan for gently offboarding some clients who weren’t as aligned and shifting our messaging to attract this new audience. Thanks to this work, we’ve taken on four new clients in the last month alone who our team is so excited to work with and who have a message that the world desperately needs to hear.
Sure, I could have done this work without ChatGPT. But the process was so quick compared to if I’d been muddling through it on my own. AI can never fully replace the deeply human insight you might gain from working with a brand coach or business coach, but it can help get you unstuck. In the span of just a few months, I’ve gone from feeling out of alignment to extremely excited about the future of the company. In 2024, I want to continue looking for opportunities to put AI in that coaching role and let it ask me the deep questions that will make my work more meaningful.
Here’s what I now believe about AI: It’s not going to replace you, but the businesses that are using it will replace you because they’re going to be moving so much faster. I’m not saying this to create fear but to encourage other business owners that now is the time to step into this space. You don’t have to become an expert, but you should take a close look at how it can be leveraged in your business. I think you’ll be amazed at the ways it can move you forward.