UPDATED: January 29, 2024

Being a subject matter expert (SME) brings with it emerging trends and challenges, especially if you're a self-employed SME. Clients' expectations and reliance on automation to maximize return on investment (ROI) and limit cost can bring the feeling of being squeezed financially. The savvy SME, however, can cope with these changes and adjust adeptly.

In 2023, many industries were radicalized by automated solutions. Chatbots like ChatGPT took automation to a new level, marketing itself as artificial intelligence (AI). Some companies decided that they didn't need human SMEs because the chatbot, using a large language model (LLM), could spit out information gathered from the internet.

The Landscape of SMEs in 2024

Companies looking for quality content from ChatGPT and similar models found that the quality wasn't the same as hiring marketing teams and consulting SMEs. That's because ChatGPT relies on an archive of the internet, so its information isn't current — but more importantly, it presents information that isn't just regurgitated; it's false, as are many of the citations and sources it provides. (The app itself has a disclaimer about that on the tool.)

Compensation for publishers and writers is also an issue here because ChatGPT does not compensate or even reveal the sources it uses to churn out content. The New York Times has issued a lawsuit against OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. This has made using ChatGPT a risky prospect for businesses looking to avoid lawsuits — which is where you come in as an SME.

Not only can you provide expertise, but you can learn about how to use the tool in a way that boosts productivity without producing false information. For example, ChatGPT can help a content creator reorder bullet points. It can have a conversation with you about your ideas. It cannot replace you (yet), and when it does, businesses need SMEs who can run the technology ethically.

The climate created by AI has also shifted consumer trust. Combined with an upcoming election and the resonating election interference of 2016, some audiences are suspicious. They aren't sure whether Midjourney generated the images they are seeing, and they would like to. Since misinformation erodes the public's confidence in democracy, it can surely do the same for various sectors and individual businesses. An SME can bring authority and trust to brands in an otherwise suspicious consumer environment.

Understanding SME Business Costs

While automation can create some headaches for the contemporary SME, technology still provides us with some incredible shortcuts to help SMEs save time and money. To figure out where to best implement technology to help you focus on your SME work rather than managing a business, consider what areas of running the business bother you most. For many SMEs, it's:

  • Lead generation and qualification
  • Handling inbound and outbound communications
  • Managing inboxes
  • Personnel management as the business grows
  • Doing taxes

If you think about it, these are services we often delegate to humans and machines.

Lead generation can be largely automated with a fantastic search engine optimized (SEO) plan and a person to qualify inbound leads. Gone are the days of scraping numbers off the internet: now, your human assistant can ask ChatGPT for ideas. You can create an optimized sales funnel page, and the leads will come to you.

When it comes to communications, having a dedicated toll-free number as your business grows can help you manage your business with less effort. Quality toll-free number services and software will let you have voicemail, reroute calls, enact SMS marketing, and provide metrics about who is calling and why.

Innovative Cost-Saving Strategies for SMEs

To further understand the perspective of cost savings for your business, it can help to know where your clients might be regarding automation and why they might want to correct an over-reliance on it in 2023. AI is also being implemented in email services, such as Google Business. It helps sort and filter email for you — to a much higher degree than it did before. Services like QuickBooks can help you manage your contract-based employees. And lastly, it's always best to trust an accountant to handle your taxes.

Due to automation, making use of these services is essential to your survival and growth. You need to distinguish yourself from not only other SMEs in your field but also helpful, friendly, cheap, or free AI. Let's take a look at how to make that happen.

As an SME, the strategies you create and implement in 2024 can allow your business to go beyond survival. It's time to thrive and grow in the coming years. Take advantage of consumers' lack of trust in AI as a solid marketing point this year while also being open to working with nonhuman tools to save costs for yourself and your clients.

Technological Innovations

Tap into automated tools like ChatGPT for idea generation and even for help in refining your processes as your business goes. Instead of reading a hundred articles on Forbes, ask the bot who has already been there and digested the information. Make sure you use your existing knowledge and expertise to evaluate what automated services tell you.

Use cloud-based technology to increase your productivity, track results, and prove ROI. For SEO SMEs, this looks like a software suite such as Semrush. For email campaigns, use something like Constant Contact. For business management, use QuickBooks. When it comes to lead generation, consider Salesforce. You need a tech stack that works for your business.

Additionally, you should have Google alerts (free) set up for keywords and phrases in your area of expertise. That way, you'll never miss breaking news, and your clients won't catch you off guard when they mention it.

Operational Efficiency

As an SME with a growing business, it's up to you to manage other people as well. Whether they're a distributed freelance team or an in-office team at an agency with a physical address, optimizing your processes with standard operating procedures (SOPs) will help you complete your work progress quickly and identify problems in your workflow. Keep in mind, process optimization is a living strategy for growth, so you must always be ready to implement big or small changes for improvements.

When you implement other changes like sustainability and energy efficiency in your office, that's not just a way to save money; it's a marketing moment. Is one employee enthusiastic about that kind of change, or minimizing the impact of your business on the environment? Have them blog about it.

Lastly, your time is also valuable. Consider a lean management structure as you grow to ensure managers are not bogged down by endless one-on-ones and decision-making. Remember that lean management can tie into various structures of operation, including SCRUM and Agile.

Strategic Outsourcing for SMEs

As a solopreneur or agency, you're already well-networked. It's time to delegate tasks to those you trust. Consider outsourcing tasks and functions that bog you and your core team down. These can include marketing tasks, data management, lead generation, and more. This includes everything from using a service like Fiverr to creating an established relationship with an offshoring business partner.

Note that in some countries and states, there are laws preventing businesses from treating full-time employees (FTEs) like contract workers with no benefits. Make sure you stay on top of these laws to avoid violating them. While they primarily target companies like Uber, they apply to all businesses.

How to Implement Cost-Saving Measures

Implementing carefully is the way to go. Make sure you plan, monitor, and review how effective any of your business changes may be, and take the adaptation of AI technology with caution. Some of your clients likely dove into AI use in 2023 and realized it damaged their credibility — that's why they want you, an expert, to help them bring their reputation back. Don't make the same mistakes they do by over-relying on easy tech.

Create a clear communication plan, so your team knows what's going on with the changes and why you are making them. Restructuring can make people nervous because, in large businesses, it indicates impending layoffs. The same holds for automation. Always describe how and why you are making changes.

Track your results with the software you're using. Understand that not every solution is the right solution, and make sure your team knows when you're trying something out to see if it'll be a good fit. At least quarterly, you should review the effectiveness of all changes implemented.

By understanding your clients' needs, recognizing the environment of change and automation, and working to reassure your employees, you can implement a leaner, more profitable strategy for 2024.