Good news, small businesses. The playing field is being leveled.

For generations, small businesses looked enviously at their larger competitors--seeing the technologies and resources they had at their fingertips to advance their business goals.

Today, though, many of the most advanced technologies, especially the ones in the field of data gathering and analysis, are readily available to businesses of all sizes.

This is a game-changer.

Aided by technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), small businesses of all sizes, including those with no employees, have never been in a better position to compete with larger, more established businesses than they are today.

Armed with the insights from the data generated by such technologies, small businesses are able to innovate, disrupt and evolve from small business to big business seemingly overnight. Few are better positioned to understand small businesses and the technologies that serve them than Intuit QuickBooks.

Alex Chriss, senior vice president & chief product officer, Small Business and Self-Employed Group for Intuit, says that it wasn't many years ago when small business owners and solopreneurs were at a huge disadvantage.

"A few years back small business and the self-employed were really the underdogs," Chriss recalls. "They were fighting with one arm tied behind their back, they had less access to data, less access to robust tools, less access to capital and yet they had to fight in a world that's heavily competitive and sometimes favors those with more access to resources and tools necessary to survive."

When QuickBooks was created more than twenty years ago, it was created with the intent to simplify the lives of small business owners so profoundly--they couldn't imagine going back to the old way. While QuickBooks has evolved and advanced through the years, that same commitment and spirit led to Alex Chriss and his team's aha moment.

Chriss and his team at Intuit were determined to find a way to turn the tables in favor of the small business owners even more so than before, leveraging emerging technologies that could change the trajectory of small business growth and progress. The key to doing this was to leverage the learnings from Intuit's database of ~50 million users. This massive proprietary database, when seen through the prism of AI and ML, provides profound insight into the way smart business decisions are made.

"We changed our strategy to: unlock the power of many for the prosperity of one," he says. "We brought together all of our customers and sought to leverage their data to do more for them. There are some key things we can do with AI and ML to give the advantage back to small businesses and the self-employed, freeing them up to focus on what matters most--their business."

This ecosystem is supported by Intuit's suite of tools, including QuickBooks, which includes Payroll, Payments, Capital, Time-Tracking and many financial management tools that help automate and simplify how an entrepreneur can manage their business. With all of these combined you've got a holistic product suite designed to benefit even the smallest of businesses.

To help consolidate and frame the depth and breadth of Intuit's core small business offerings, what the QuickBooks team has done is organize the Intuit ecosystem into three pillars that focus on the smarter benefits the product delivers to its customers: Smart Money, Smart Decisions and Smart Connections.

Smart Money is all about relieving the kinds of cash flow problems that are often fatal to small businesses.

QuickBooks Capital, one of QuickBooks' latest innovations, leans on the power of its open platform and data of the ecosystem to provide funding to businesses which wouldn't qualify for loans of traditional banks and has funded more than $140 million in loans in just a single year. Ninety percent of QuickBooks Capital customers said the funds they received helped them grow their business, and 41 percent said that without a loan from QuickBooks Capital, they would not have expanded or improved their business.

As Chriss points out, cash flow is the number one pain point for small businesses. In a recent study by Intuit, more than half of small business owners (57%) cannot be completely confident that they fully understand their businesses' finances. The study also found that 61% of small business owners have had issues with cash flow, and among those who have had issues and have employees, more than 2 in 5 (43%) are frequently at risk of not being able to pay employees by payday.

Things like unpaid accounts receivables, making payroll, seasonality and general cash crunches can damage or destroy businesses, even if these businesses are profitable.

"With Smart Money, we enable customers to send payment-enabled invoices, cutting in half the time it takes for them to get paid. We've freed up money by allowing money to be taken out on payday instead of having to take it out of circulation two weeks in advance."

Another way Intuit is helping businesses to succeed is through its Payments platform, which helps small businesses get paid quicker, while mitigating any cash flow issues for businesses when they need cash most.

In a recent PYMNTS interview with Intuit, it cites 64 percent of B2B payments are still made by checks. This is extremely inefficient and often leads to serious, even fatal, cash flow issues. With QuickBooks, businesses can set up automated payment systems (based on the fulfillment of agreed-upon terms) and get paid by customers in the ways customers want to pay.

Under the Smart Decisions pillar, QuickBooks leverages billions of business decisions made by its customers in their database and that data helps the company quickly anticipate the appropriate and smart decision to make in the great majority of cases.

For example, baked into QuickBooks are complex sales and income tax information, eliminating the need for time-wasting calculations.

"We run our algorithms against their transactions and billions of other transactions in our ecosystem," Chriss explains "By leveraging the power of the ecosystem, we can help them make the right decisions, quickly."

Chriss provided the example of multiple customers who have told his team that they've spent up to 20 hours a month having to manually calculate sales tax. Oftentimes they get it wrong and end up paying a fine. By leveraging AI and ML, our system takes care of that, so the work is calculated and categorized automatically for them.

"QuickBooks is adding facts to your hunches to make smart decisions," he notes. "QuickBooks is the smart way to do business and it gets smarter every day."

Finally, Smart Connections reflects Intuit's understanding that small business owners and solopreneurs often feel lonely and isolated. What Intuit understands is that the power of its network is directly related to the health of the businesses within the network.

The QuickBooks app marketplace offers over 600+ apps that third-party developers have published specifically for small businesses and accountants. With 68 percent of small businesses using apps to run their business, the QuickBooks app marketplace not only connects developers to the right small businesses, it also connects small businesses to find the right tools that can extend the capability of QuickBooks for them.

To that end, QuickBooks actively connects small business owners with well-vetted accountants, app developers and even helps them to find top qualified employees. For example, Intuit's Find-A-ProAdvisor platform, and today, this program connects almost 1,000 small businesses to accountants every single day worldwide.

What does this mean for small businesses? If you just take the example of matching customers with accountants, the results are stunning. 89 percent of small businesses report they are more successful if they're working with an accountant.

"It's quite simple, actually--we want to help them not feel so isolated, and actually bring in the right connection at the right time," Chriss says.

Intuit's support of small businesses is more than just business help. The QuickBooks ecosystem is a manifestation of Intuit's commitment to providing small business owners with the tools, technology, and expertise they need to help them succeed.

"We back people who work for themselves," Chriss said, "Everything we do is about tipping the odds in our customers' favor, giving them the advantages they need to succeed."

Published on: Nov 2, 2018