Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace can feel overwhelming for small business owners who don’t have the time to spend learning new programs. However, AI-driven tools can lead to time-saving benefits.

This installment of CO–’s event series Ready. Set. Scale. explored some uses and benefits of adopting AI in a small business environment. Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of CO—, Jeanette Mulvey, interviewed three experts on the following topics:

  • Dan Newman, the Founder, Auctioneer, and Appraiser of Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals, shared how his company uses AI tools to streamline repetitive tasks and boost efficiency.
  • Brons Larson, the AI Ecosystems Lead at Dell Technologies, explained the different forms of AI and explored how businesses have leveraged it to increase output.
  • Barbara Thau, Editorial Director, Features at CO—, discussed new CO— feature articles

Popular tools and programs leverage AI — and many entrepreneurs don’t even realize it

While some entrepreneurs are hesitant to adopt AI into their business practices, its usage is already more prevalent than you may think.

“Whether you know it or not, [AI is] kind of baked into a lot of the things you're already doing,” Newman said, emphasizing that many apps businesses use daily leverage AI.

Newman’s business, a full-service auction house that was named a 2023 America’s Top Small Business Finalist, is no stranger to AI. The company regularly uses AI tools to streamline tasks such as identifying items with Google Lens, drafting ad copy and building Excel spreadsheets using ChatGPT, and bulk editing photos for online listings with Adobe Firefly and DALL-E.

“We want to take pictures as if there are no descriptions and write descriptions as if there are no pictures,” Newman said. “Making sure that we have those quality images and … the AI software tools that help streamline that work and take the manual labor of having to crop around images has been very useful for us.”

Through the strategic application of AI tools, Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals has been able to reap time-saving benefits, improve customer outcomes, and meet goals without having to bring on additional staff.

[Read More: Alaska Premier Auctions & Appraisals Puts Quality Above All Else]

AI is creating demand for a greater workforce

According to Larson, AI has two forms: analysis and synthesis. Well-known programs like TurboTax use analysis to identify objects or analyze a situation to make decisions. Synthesis, on the other hand, generates objects that AI analysis can then detect or analyze. This includes generative AI tools like smartphone photo filters and Microsoft Copilot, Larson added.

Regardless of the tools you use, he cautioned business owners to ensure there is human intervention to review and improve AI output. This avoids problems caused by the tool creating something that doesn’t align with your company.

Human creativity is propelled, not hindered, by AI

While some argue that artificial intelligence is killing creativity among humans, experts suggest it can actually boost creativity.

“When we outsource the drudgery, we have more time for creativity,” Thau said.

The journey of Blanket Pancakes & Syrup, from a homemade recipe born out of Marquita Carter's pregnancy struggles to a million-dollar brand in major retailers like Costco and Walmart, illustrated how human creativity merged with strategically employing technology and distribution strategies can propel small business success.

The narrative echoed Thau's advice on brand authenticity: Just as long standing brands like Stanley maintained their identity while achieving widespread recognition, it’s important to stay true to one's roots as you innovate.

“They tapped into this authenticity of this really well-made product that construction workers were using,” Thau said. “Brands with industrial roots and blue-collar appeal … have this cool factor, like Timberland [and] Carhartt. It's like [having] built-in authenticity and leveraging that in authentic ways.”

[Read More: AI Tools That Can Help You Start, Run, and Grow Your Small Business]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.