4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Savvy business owners have already begun to prepare for the new normal, taking advantage of the opportunity to arm themselves with new tools for the future. That’s not to say recovery will be easy for everyone, or even that everyone will recover. In April, Main Street America reported that 7.5 million small businesses could close permanently within five months. Nearly half of those businesses could close permanently in just two months, especially if they don’t receive financial assistance.

Businesses can’t expect to jump back into the driver’s seat and pick up where they left off. Future success demands present growth, and in a future filled with smarter technologies, artificial intelligence stands out as the most vital investment for businesses of all sizes.

Why Businesses Need AI Right Now

Tight budgets currently prevent many founders from pursuing their vision. For many, scraping by from one day to the next counts as a win. This state of affairs can’t continue for long, though. Something has to give. Businesses that attempt to hold tight instead of pressing forward will find their grip slipping as a new and tougher market lets them fall.

Rather than take a conservative wait-and-see approach, entrepreneurs should do what they do best in these situations: innovate, explore and challenge the status quo. Tools like artificial intelligence empower even the smallest businesses to scale their capabilities beyond what they could accomplish on their own, enabling them to get more out of limited resources.

What better way to survive and thrive than to implement solutions that yield better returns on smaller investments?

Related: 6 AI Business Tools for Entrepreneurs on a Budget

Finding and vetting AI partners

During times of stress and complexity, entrepreneurs don’t have to go it alone. Artificial intelligence tools provided by competent and helpful partners can help businesses do more with their limited budgets and push through any challenge. Finding the right partner isn’t always easy, but with a little preparation and some digging, every company can identify and implement an AI solution to make life a little easier.

Check out these helpful tips to find the right AI partner:

1. Prioritize the art of prioritization

AI tools remain decades away from human-level intelligence. Most business owners can perform all the same tasks an AI tool can perform. The difference is that competent AI can help companies prioritize and streamline workflows, saving humans time as the tools take care of the details.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Use AI to Boost Their Business

CureMetrix, an AI business that operates in the medical industry, cautions radiology professionals against the dangers of burnout. With so many important decisions to make, people can quickly succumb to analysis paralysis if left unchecked. When evaluating potential AI partners, look for someone who can help the business and its workers prioritize and manage workloads.

2. Understand the difference between machine learning and artificial intelligence

When vetting partners, look into which tool will be most beneficial for you. As a branch of AI, machine learning involves teaching systems to learn from data sets and make independent decisions based on that information. Artificial intelligence includes a host of functions, machine learning included, so business owners should weigh their needs against any offer from a potential partner.

Not sure what type of solution to go for? Business AI provider D-Labs put together this helpful guide on how to evaluate AI solutions for specific business needs.

3. Invest in tools that connect directly to revenue

Businesses can use AI for all sorts of cool things. Right now, though, most companies can’t afford to splurge on luxuries. Microsoft highlights a few different uses of AI and clarifies exactly how different implementations impact the businesses using them.

For example, a business with interactive customer-service AI could answer basic questions and provide simple services without the need for human intervention. Chatbots are a popular version of this type of AI. Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions empower companies to track and manage communications to maximize time spent on the most promising leads.

Microsoft also mentions the benefits of cybersecurity AI, which may not translate directly to revenue but can save business owners thousands of dollars in avoided mischief. With hacker activity up, cybersecurity investments may be prudent for companies that can afford them.

Related: 3 Ways You Can Use Artificial Intelligence to Grow Your Business Right Now

Why wait until the pandemic passes to start looking into smarter tools? By adding the right technologies and partners now, business owners can get ahead of the curve, equipped with the ability to earn more money with fewer resources. No one knows how long the downturn in the economy will last, so the sooner businesses invest in themselves, the more impactful the returns will be.