The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 24.02

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Image courtesy of DALL-E via ChatGPT

AI for Solopreneurs: how to get real benefits

There’s so much AI out there it’s difficult to decide where to start, and how to apply it to your business. In this article I show how I’m using AI to get real-world, long-term benefits for my solopreneur business, starting with marketing.

There’s just too much AI.

Every day, we see tons of tips, tricks and new advancements in AI, each promising a fast track to save time, produce more content, or otherwise deliver riches beyond imagination.

There’s no doubt that AI is the best thing since, well, sliced bread if you like. And there are huge benefits to be had. But there’s just so much out there that it’s difficult to know where to start, and how to get through the learning curves so we can get real benefits.

A better approach

I’ve been spinning my wheels with AI as well. There’s so much promising stuff out there, and being a tech nerd I can’t help diving into the inevitable rabbit holes.

But towards the end of last year I started using a different approach, and it’s turning my experiments with AI into real benefits.

Here’s how it works.

What we really need with AI in our businesses

Just experimenting with AI is great, but random experimentation doesn’t deliver anything useful. More importantly, those experiments don’t get incorporated into your business to deliver real benefits.

What we really need is for AI to become an integral part of our business processes, helping us do stuff faster and better.

We can of course just ask AI “help me with my business”. I did exactly that and ChatGPT came up with some half-way decent advice. But again, this is a series of rabbit holes, and it doesn’t give me a way to consistently harness the power of AI.

It would be nice to have a more structured approach.

A framework for practical AI

If you’re not familiar with it yet, the Tornado Method is a framework for understanding, assessing, designing and running everything that goes into a business. It consists of 11 elements in three layers:

The top level of the Tornado Method. Everything you need to build and run a business lives in here.

In short: the Revenue Engine (green) is how your business makes money (this is where you spend most of your time). The Building Blocks (blue) are the design of your business, and the red Getting Stuff Done block is you.

This framework gives us a more focused approach for getting real benefits from AI.

Now, rather than just asking an AI random things, I can focus on more specific things. For example, if I know I need more clients, I can focus on the Marketing element. If I get lots of leads but they don’t turn into clients, I can focus on Lead Nurturing, Sales or my Product Ladder.

Design vs Doing - where can AI help?

In each of the 11 elements above, there are two fundamental ways AI can help:

  • Design: what or how will I do this thing?
  • Doing: how can AI help me with the day-to-day doing of this thing?

Let’s take Marketing as an example. AI can help us design a marketing strategy (the design part). It can also help us generate ideas for LinkedIn posts (the day-to-day doing bits).

In the Tornado Method, the Building Blocks (blue) are mostly design. You design your Business Model when you start your business. You may pivot a few times, and once you’ve found something that works, it doesn’t change a lot. AI can help here, but it’s mostly with design.

The Revenue Engine is on the flip side - this is where you are “doing” things every day or week and AI can therefore help streamline those every day.

A practical example: AI in Marketing

Marketing is the first area where I started applying this “new” approach to using AI in my solopreneur business.

Using AI to help me design my marketing

Almost all of my marketing is content marketing (like this article). I write long-form articles, posts on LinkedIn and occasionally do public speaking.

For my marketing to be effective (generate leads that turn into clients), I need to write about stuff my ideal clients care about. Rather than just list a bunch of topics and start writing about them, I use the Pillars and Topics method.

The Pillars and Topics method consists of:

  • a small number of content pillars (groups of related content)
  • a list of more specialized topics under each pillar.

This is what it will look like on my website:

Content Pillars and Topics. Links between articles help improve SEO score.

I used ChatGPT to help me design my content pillars and topics. Here’s what they look like:

A screenshot of my Content Pillars and Topics. There are topics under each pillar - I’m only showing the topics under Marketing and Sales in this screenshot.

In total, there are 36 topics under the 5 pillars. I may not write about them all, but I have a lot to write about (no more staring at a blank screen!). Now I need to start the content generation.

Using AI to help me with my content

Let’s take the topic of customer journeys as an example. As solopreneurs we need to understand the concept and how to apply it — but we don’t need to become specialists.

I asked ChatGPT to help:

I would like to write a series of articles about the Customer Journey for my ideal clients who are solopreneurs. We can assume that at least some solopreneurs don't know a lot about the topic, so one or more of these articles should educate them about what it is, why it is important, and how they can use it in their businesses. The articles should all be practical and/or educational, and focus on the most important elements of customer journeys. Solopreneurs do not need to get highly sophisticated with customer journeys, so we want to avoid topics that are not of immediate benefit to them.

Can you suggest a series of article headlines that would meet these criteria?

The results were not great (you can see the full transcript here), but were good enough to get started.

In the transcript you will also see that I asked for an outline for the first article (provisionally titled “Understanding the Customer Journey: A Solopreneur's Guide”). I will using that outline as the basis for an upcoming article.

The key point is this:

I can now use a similar prompt for all 36 topics to generate ideas for articles. If I get 5 useful article ideas for each topic, I have 180 potential articles.

Here’s how I will be putting this into practice:

  • Once a year, generate a list of 50 articles.
  • Create a content calendar with each article scheduled for a specific week in the year.
  • When I write the article, use ChatGPT to suggest an outline and titles that are optimized for SEO.
  • Potentially use ChatGPT (or other more specialized AI tools) to summarize, extract snippets for LinkedIn posts, and so on.

As I get more experienced with doing this, I am sure I will find more ways to use AI to save me time and get better at stuff — more about that in a future article!

Getting the long-term benefits

Using an AI like ChatGPT has already helped me with my marketing, specifically to shape a content strategy. It would have taken me a lot longer to create this strategy without the help of AI, so I count this as a big win.

I will now be using ChatGPT to help me plan and execute my content creation. From what I’ve experienced so far:

  • article titles and outlines are semi-useful
  • actually generating content I’m happy with is just not there.

Even so, I can see that AI is going to be a huge time-saver just by generating ideas and suggesting outlines I can tweak. So I will be using it consistently, and I will report back later in the year on how things are going.

What about other areas of my business?

From last year’s experiments, I learnt that just experimenting with AI is great fun, but unless I put real effort into applying it to my business I would just be wasting my time.

So the structured approach is the way to go, and updating my internal processes (for example, article writing) is how I get the real, long-term benefits.

Outside of working with clients, writing articles and posts for LinkedIn is probably the most time-consuming I do. It makes sense to spend more time here before I dive into other areas of my business. For example, the image at the top of this article was generated by ChatGPT, a process that would otherwise have taken 5-10 minutes scrolling through Unsplash, downloading and resizing the image, and so on.

The moral of this story

Bottom line: experimenting with AI is fun, but if you don’t focus on the practical benefits, and incorporate those into your business processes, save it for a rainy day.