Small Businesses and ChatGPT: Some Love It, Some Hate It

Boston, MA: July 25, 2023 — Alignable’s ChatGPT Sentiment Study shows that 57% of SMB owners have at least tried the new AI tool, and 26% of those in the U.S. have already embraced it as a new way to enhance their businesses.

These statistics reveal a high degree of early acceptance and hope for this new technology, especially considering that ChatGPT was just released at the end of last year and remains a somewhat mysterious new tech tool for many small business owners.

So, why is this so encouraging?

Because the majority of small business owners have been working in vain against challenging conditions to bounce back from a three-year-long economic slump.

And ChatGPT — at least for now — holds promise for some of them, based on their poll responses and commentary.

To put current economic conditions in their proper perspective, our June and July surveys show that a whopping 61% of SMBs have yet to fully recover financially from the COVID era. That means only 39% report making as much or more revenue monthly as they did prior to the pandemic.

AI Tool Frees Up Time To Focus On More Profitable Work

But this recently released tool — accessible to just about everyone — can help small businesses run better and more efficiently, ultimately maximizing owners’ time to improve and even expedite their chances for recovery and growth.

Released today, Alignable’s ChatGPT Sentiment Study is based on an extensive survey of 7,802 randomly selected small business owners across hundreds of categories, conducted from 6/2/23 to 7/24/23.

Here are a few quotes from participants to add another dimension to the statistics:

“We started experimenting with it, then really got into it, and now it’s a part of our marketing automation platform. By integrating the GPT capabilities, we’ve freed up all kinds of time. Things that used to take hours now take minutes, giving us room to focus on the work we truly love that will bring in more money. It doesn’t replace the human touch as many fear; it actually gives us more time for it. This Genie is not going back in the bottle.”

“AI is still being developed (very quickly). I have many uses for it from content to marketing, and even new business ideas. It’s a business tool that cannot be overlooked much the same as the first desktop computer. AI is here to stay: embrace it, use it, and learn it. Your competitors are.”

“We’ve started using it quite frequently — first to create marketing content, but now it’s helping us troubleshoot tech/software issues we run into. It’s a super quick way to look up what error messages mean, but even better, I’ve found it’s helping me up my Microsoft Excel game. Instead of spending time googling how to do something, I can ask ChatGPT and it gives me the exact steps to accomplish whatever I need help with!”

“We build custom software and we’re using ChatGPT extensively in the software for AI-driven analytics.”

“We’re exploring the different features and applications of AI to improve workflow, communications, and messaging.”

How Are Small-Medium Businesses Using ChatGPT?

Reinforcing the commentary above, here’s the breakdown of how the 57% of SMB owners who’ve tried ChatGPT are integrating it into their businesses:

  • 31% are creating more marketing content with the new tool
  • 13% are tapping it to help with customer interactions
  • 7% are experimenting with it to tackle a variety of business functions
  • 3% are uncovering long-term, general trends in their industries
  • 2% are using it for scheduling
  • 1% are asking ChatGPT for tech support

You can see a summary of these statistics in the chart below.

57% of SMBs are trying ChatGPT to improve business

ChatGPT Has Several Critics, Too

While many SMB owners have expressed excitement about the new AI tool, Alignable’s ChatGPT Sentiment Study also revealed many dissenting opinions, fears, and a general need for much more education about ChatGPT.

As the chart above indicates, 23% of those surveyed said they don’t envision themselves ever using ChatGPT. And some are vehemently opposed to it.

The remaining 20% aren’t sure if they’ll use it or not, but want to know more about what it can do. (On that note, Alignable has an hour-long demo and webinar recorded to help all small business owners bolster their ChatGPT skills.).

Here are some quotes from small business owners who don’t believe ChatGPT will be useful, feel it’s a tool that still requires a significant amount of regulation, or worse, believe it has major limitations, and inherent risks.

As the following statements show — ChatGPT is a topic that’s polarizing for many SMB owners.

“ChatGPT is both powerful and terrifying. Its challenges and successes should serve as a wake-up call for everyone. It’s important to use caution with new AI technology. It’s too easy to get caught up in the excitement, and forget that you’re dealing with an online service that can be hacked or misused.”

“I hate it. Most of what it’s doing in the creative field is stealing. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone and everything is the same. And that is exactly what it’s going to do. What a shame.”

“AI offerings must prove they do not inadvertently pose a security issue. If you use an open source AI-based chat tool to do competitive analysis, you expose yourself as an arch-rival to your competitors, and can reveal your strategies and weaknesses via ChatGPT requests.”

“Be very careful with ChatGPT. I have received incorrect information more than once. Beyond that, what it provides is two years old, so that can be a major limitation to any kind of research or inquiry.”

“I’m a dog trainer and most of what I do requires in-person guidance. ChatGPT, as it is now, could never train a dog.”

“I know I’ll never use it for my business. My customers like people, not bots.”

Examining SMB Owner Sentiment By Sector

Beyond ascertaining how small business owners are using and feeling about ChatGPT so far, we also asked more about its role in their industries — and their confidence in it looking ahead.

As mentioned earlier, 26% of SMB owners in the U.S. are very optimistic that ChatGPT — and other forms of AI — will, indeed, improve their businesses and ultimately, help bring in more revenue.

And small business owners in several industries have exceeded the average 26% optimism rate significantly, exhibiting an even more positive outlook about the promise it holds for their companies.

The following chart shows how the different sectors rank in terms of their enthusiasm.

26% of SMBs see ChatGPT as very promising

In the top spot, nearly half of the people polled in the general business services category (46%) are extremely optimistic about the future of ChatGPT.

Right behind them, 41% of those in science and technology are also very upbeat about ChatGPT’s potential.

Rounding out the top five most positive industries about ChatGPT are marketing & advertising (31%), education (27%), and transportation (26%).

On the other end of the spectrum, small business owners who are comparatively more pessimistic about how much ChatGPT will help their businesses, include those in the following categories:

  • Travel/Lodging (15%)
  • Restaurants (15%)
  • Nonprofits (14%)
  • Agriculture (13%)
  • Lawyers (13%)

In fact, 27% of the legal professionals polled added that they believe ChatGPT will require much stronger regulations as it evolves. Copyright and privacy issues rank highly among their concerns.

More Minorities Favor ChatGPT, Veterans Do Not

Looking at different demographic groups, it was apparent that there’s quite a divide between minority-owned businesses and those founded by veterans.

Minority SMB owners are most optimistic about ChatGPT

Minority business owners are the most optimistic of all groups about how ChatGPT can help them grow their businesses.

Considering that currently 71% of minority-owned companies have not been able to fully recover financially from the COVID era, that’s a promising indication that several of those businesses might be able to use ChatGPT to rebound.

Based on dozens of polls over more than three years, these disadvantaged businesses have encountered many more struggles to get back on their feet compared to nonminority-owned businesses since March 2020.

And now, only 29% are generating the same revenues or more than they did prior to the pandemic. This is 10 percentage points less than the U.S. national average, which is still daunting at only 39%.

It’s our hope that ChatGPT can be a new tool to help more minority-owned businesses bounce back. We’ll be watching that closely in the coming months.

Veteran SMB Owners Aren’t As Keen About ChatGPT

On the other extreme, veterans, who have consistently had fewer issues in their economic recovery than any other demographic group, are more pessimistic about the new AI tool.

Only 13% of them say they’re enthusiastic about what ChatGPT can accomplish for their businesses.

That’s 13 percentage points lower than the U.S. national average of 26%, and nine percentage points lower than what minority business owners told us. However, these findings could change in the coming months, as more SMB owners are using ChatGPT.

Moving beyond demographic groups, it’s interesting to see the wide range of optimism and relative pessimism among SMB owners across different states.

Georgia, Florida, Minnesota & Virginia Are Most Optimistic

As the chart below indicates, Georgia’s SMBs are most optimistic, with 29% saying they’re excited about what ChatGPT can do to bolster their businesses.

Georgia, Florida, Minnesota & Virginia Are Most Optimistic About ChatGPT

Here are the rest of the stats for some of the larger states:

  • FL & MN: 28%
  • VA: 27%
  • IL & OH: 25%
  • CA: 24%
  • PA & TX: 22%
  • CT & MO: 20%
  • NY & WA: 19%
  • AZ, CO, MA, & NJ: 18%
  • MI: 16%
  • OR: 15%
  • NC: 13%

So, the SMB owners who are least excited about the possibilities around ChatGPT reside in NC, OR, and MI. Let’s see if this trend continues in the next few months.

Canadian Small Biz Owners Are Less Enthusiastic

Looking at Canada alone, only 19% of the small business owners there are optimistic about the potential ChatGPT has for their businesses, seven percentage points lower than the U.S. national average of 26%.

Here’s what SMB owners in key provinces told us about their level of optimism for the new technology:

Canadian Small Biz Owners Are Less Enthusiastic about ChatGPT

Ontario leads the pack with 23% of its small business leaders saying they’re excited about what ChatGPT can do to improve their businesses. They are four percentage points higher than the Canadian national average.

Meanwhile, both British Columbia (18%) and Alberta (17%) were under the national Canadian average for ChatGPT optimism.

We’ll be monitoring the Canadian situation closely, too, to see if, as more people experiment with ChatGPT, these percentages increase later this year.

About The Alignable Research Center

Alignable is the largest online referral network for small businesses with 8 million+ members across North America.
We established our research center in early March 2020, to track and report the impact of the Coronavirus on small businesses, and to monitor recovery efforts, informing the media, policymakers, and our members.

Author Bio

As Head of PR & a former SMB owner himself, Chuck Casto is a small business crusader. He’s deeply invested in letting national media and social influencers know what’s really happening on Main Street. From promoting our polls, to running contests celebrating member achievements, to writing advice columns, Chuck’s one of our chief storytellers. Before Alignable, he led branding, PR & social campaigns for companies from Haagen-Dazs to Harley-Davidson & Wendy’s to Wayfair. Prior to PR, Chuck was a TV reporter in NY, and an editor for local Gannett newspapers. Chuck holds a B.A. from Brown & an M.S.J. from Northwestern.

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