In a neighborhood dense with high-end retail, luxury residences and offices, this 20,000 square foot branch library is much-needed. TEN Arquitectos’ design transforms the dark, subterranean space into an inviting, open and light-filled civic landscape in the heart of Manhattan.

24 Ways Amazon Alexa Skills Can Help Your Small Business Today

Amazon Alexa for Small Businesses

Amazon’s Alexa has become the premiere platform consumers are using for this interaction. But businesses are also using it to improve their day to day operations and deliver better customer service.

Amazon Alexa for Small Businesses

Amazon is increasing the market share by making it easier to create skills for Alexa, which now stand at more than 15,000. These skills are created by developers and businesses, just like apps, to interact with Alexa to carry out a wide range of functions.

With so many skills, finding the best ones can be a job in itself. So it kind makes sense to start here so you can find what you are looking for. Skill Finder was created by Amazon to tell you about the newest and top skills in the Alexa catalog.

Finding Alexa Skills for These Tasks on Amazon

You can tell Alexa to list categories and find skills within them to suit your particular needs.

Here are 25 skills you can use with Alexa to make your business more efficient by just using your voice to perform tasks.

Email Management

Managing emails can be time consuming. The Astrobot skill lets you manage your Gmail or Office 365 email from your Amazon Echo. With this skill, Alexa can read, reply and manage your emails, as well as help you prioritize new ones.

Additional functions include delete, archive, quick replies and more.

Website Monitoring

With the Vigil website monitoring skill, you can ask Alexa to report on the status of your websites. As more small businesses add more sites, knowing they are up and running at all times will ensure your customers can access your services.

When a site is down, Vigil automatically sends a push notification so you can fix the problem.

Managing Schedules

Staying on top of your schedule when you have one too many things to do can get overwhelming. FreeBusy Scheduling Assistant uses Alexa to coordinate meetings so you never miss your appointments. You can check the availability of individuals using contacts and syncing with Microsoft Outlook and Office 365, Google Calendar, and iCloud.

Making Calls With Just a Name

The RingByName skill is a business phone service for making calls to any telephone number or extension using the person’s name. Alexa calls your phone number and connects to the number or person you want to talk to, including names in stored contacts.

Alexa is not used as a speakerphone, it just launches calls.

Finding Services

As a small business owner, you never know when you might need a plumber, electrician, handymen or any other service. The Intently.co skill brings together more than 1 million service providers. All you have to do is ask Alexa for a plumber, and it will connect you with qualified service providers in your location within minutes.

Managing Invoices

The Accounts Receivable Factoring skill uses Alexa to calculate factoring fees and tell you the amount you will get for your invoices. All you have to do is tell Alexa how much your invoice is for and what your factoring rate is.

The skill uses DSA Factors, which offers factoring rates between 2-5 percent.

Collecting Online Store Information

Shopify Alexa provides information on inventory, orders, and store performance summaries. As part of the Shopify ecosystem, this skill makes a wide range of data available at your fingertips by just saying what you need.

This includes, orders and sales reporting, list of products that need to be fulfilled, summary of best-selling products, breakdown of store visitors and much more.

Providing Reminders

The combination of Alexa and Remember The Milk, a proven reminder app is a marriage made in digital heaven. Using this skill, you can hear what is due on a particular date. You can also add tasks for meetings, pay invoices and other tasks you might forget because of your busy schedule.

You can also give tasks to the contacts on RememberTheMilk, such as reminding one of your employees to deliver something.

Tracking Packages

Whether you are sending or receiving packages, the Mail Haven Track Packages skill can track them. You will be able to ask Alexa the status of all undelivered packages, including the last update on the package to determine if it is in transit or already delivered.

You will need to connect to a Mail Haven account for the service.

Keeping Track of Business Travel

Small business owners usually make their own travel arrangements. The Expedia for Alexa skill provides information about the entire itinerary, make reservations and reminds you what to pack. This includes details about your upcoming trips, check your flight status, book you a rental car, and even check your loyalty points.

Amazon Alexa for Small Businesses

Managing Conferences

Audio and video conferences play a great role in today’s collaborative workforce environment. The Conference Manager skill from Vonage interfaces with Google Calendar to detect your next conference and dial it for you. By simply saying “start my call” to Alexa, it will extract the conference information, dial the bridge number, meeting number, participant code and make the call.

The platform supports WebEx, Goto Meeting, BlueJeans and Vonage Business conferencing solutions.

Connecting With Wunderlist

Wunderlist is popular task manager app, and Task Master is a skill linking it directly to the app. Once it is linked, you can access lists to add tasks, find out what is due, view your inbox and more.

Editing Documents

Being able to quickly revise a document without a computer can come in handy. With Edit Docs, you can edit or add to Google documents using Alexa. This includes for presentation, sheet, and document.

You have to have a Gmail account with Google Drive linked with Alexa to make this skill work. And you can start editing by telling Alexa to “open edit docs.”

Staying in Touch With Your Team

Where Edit Docs lets you make changes to documents without a computer, SoftServe’s VoiceMyBot does the same for staying in touch with your team. With a simple command to Alexa, this skill lets you listen to a user feed or a notification feed.

You can listen to recent messages and check on the status of projects.

Tracking Your Time

If you are a freelancer or contracted to work on a project, keeping track of the time you put in is important. With Work Time Tracker you can track tasks for work projects or units and also stop. You can then ask Alexa to give you the sum of all tracked work units, total time and reset all tracked work units.

Providing Business Intelligence

As small businesses increase their presence digitally, being able to monitor sales, unit sales, and best or worst sales with reports provides valuable information for making informed decisions. With SalesTalk, which combines customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) you can use Alexa to ask for these reports.

Managing HR

Described as a social all-in-one HR software that covers “Hire” to “Retire,” WebHR allows you to manage your workforce. The platform is the first fully automated HR tool in the cloud. And with Alexa, users can ask for who is present, absent, number of active employees as well as personal information, such as whose birthday it is today.

Keeping up With Google Analytics

Having a website for ecommerce means using analytics to measure different metrics. Unofficial Google Analytics links with your Google analytics account and lets you get the information by asking Alexa.

You can ask for the number of page views for a single day, between two dates and more.

Tracking Your Fleet

The Rhino Fleet Tracking skill can be used to ask for the locations of your vehicles and drivers. The questions can get more specific, such a drivers name, type of vehicle, who is at the office and more.

You have to sign in with your Rhino Fleet Tracking email and password to link Alexa.

Calculating Business Taxes

This is a skill every small business can use. Quickly and accurately calculating the total price, including sales tax by just asking Alexa can save you a lot of time. Sales Tax Calculator can do the job when you don’t have a calculator around, or you are tired of entering numbers all day.

Providing Digital Marketing Tips

Digital marketing can get complicated for a small business. Authentic Digital Marketing Tips provides actionable tips with daily advice from Authentic, a digital agency specializing in delivering valuable experiences.

Sending SMS Texts

Created by Convessa, Mastermind uses Alexa so you can send and read SMS text messages, make and answer phone calls, caller ID, find your phone, get notifications and launch apps on your mobile device and television.

This skill can be used for business and personal communications.

Using Slack With Alexa

Slack is a collaboration tool used by businesses of all sizes. The Alexa skill from PromptWorks called Chat Bot for Slack is not created, affiliated with, or supported by Slack Technologies, Inc. However, you can link Alexa to your Slack account and post messages to communicate with your team.

Adding Events to Google Calendar

QuickEvents optimizes Google Calendar by letting you use Alexa to add events. This skill first checks for conflicting event, which it then follows by asking for a confirmation before adding an event.

If you don’t provide all the information it needs, Alexa will ask you for it, such as “For what day should I schedule the event?” and “At what time should I schedule the event?”

What is the Downside of Using Alexa?

Amazon is doing all the right things to create a platform in which developers can easily create skills. This of course has led to a dramatic rise of available skills for consumers and businesses. The downside of using Alexa for businesses at this very moment is the technology is going through some growing pains. And for businesses, they can ill afford to have system in place that can be prone mistakes, no matter how few they are.

However, as Alexa gets smarter and the infrastructure behind it improves, it will be as ubiquitous as a PC, smartphone or another office equipment.

Alexa in the Office Photo via Shutterstock
Alexa Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “24 Ways Amazon Alexa Skills Can Help Your Small Business Today” was first published on Small Business Trends

The Letter I Wrote To A Broken Man

Every day I get lots of emails from readers asking me how to solve a major life issue.

I got one last week and realized that my advice is often the same. I thought that it might be easier to write my advice about how to stop being so broken. That way, every time I get one of these emails I can point people to it.

Here’s the advice I gave this broken man that wrote to me:


1. Find someone who is going to change your thinking

This man had a whole list of problems that he tried to tell me were impossible to solve. He listed them in such detail and made each one sound beyond impossible to solve. He was hoping that he would bamboozle me and that I’d reply and say “Mate you’re right, those problems are impossible to solve and I can’t help you.”

The first step I always tell these so called “broken people” is that they need to get out of their head. They’ve become obsessed with their challenges and they need to interrupt their thinking. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to find someone to change your thinking.

To make this broken man’s life easy, I gave him the answer of who to start with. He needed a rapid change of thinking and the best person I know to do this is Tony Robbins. Now I could have let him find his own person to assist, but it would have ended up becoming another excuse.

What he needed to hear was something radically different to the story that he’d memorized and become an expert narrator in. Tony sure knows how to change the way you think and slap you in the face when you need it. This is always the beginning.


2. Quit your job

This broken man blamed a lot of his problems on his job. This is common in all the letters I get from people who think they’re broken. They all have an issue that stems from what they do for a living.

What’s crazy is that your job or business is your decision. If you don’t like the result, then quit. It’s not rocket science; it’s just the reality.

“Quitting something you hate is the best decision you’ll ever make”

You can always find another source of income. The best thing about quitting is that you’ll be forced to find a new way to make a living pretty quickly so you can pay your bills.

Make it a slow transition if you need to, but just know that you must quit. Don’t let anything piss you off anymore. Stop doing what you don’t love. If your work doesn’t light you up, then quit!


3. Failing a lot is good. Stop being afraid.

My friend, the broken man, tried to tell me that he was failing a lot. I stood up in my seat and gave him a metaphorical round of applause (he obviously couldn’t see me do this). If you’re failing a lot, then that’s the best bloody news I’ve ever heard! Don’t be down about it; be excited about it.

This means your giving it a go and taking action. That’s better than 99% of other people who are doing nothing and sitting on the couch hoping to get lucky. You’ll eventually find a way if you keep failing. It’s inevitable.

Being afraid is unnecessary and it’s delusional. You’re not supposed to know exactly what to do and no one who is successful does.

“You’re supposed to take action, and then learn from the outcomes and adjust the sails of your ship as you go”


4. Go and volunteer at a homeless shelter

I’ve said this one a lot because I’ve personally found it very effective – In fact, I was just at the homeless shelter again last week. It’s the idea that you need to see problems far bigger than your own. I’ve never seen anyone walk into a homeless shelter and spend a day there, who hasn’t come out the other side with a new way of looking at life.

You’re forced into helping others and you do whatever you can because many of the people you’ll meet are beyond desperate. In reality, your problems are not desperate where as there’s is. Once you’ve seen the worst there is to see, then you’ll be able to break your pattern of misery.


5. Your problems are the same

This broken man was so stuck in his circumstances that he couldn’t see the rest of the world. He stopped seeing the hardships that others are going through and he somehow believed the lie that he was the only one facing these problems. I told him something he didn’t expect: “Your problems are the same as every other email I get.”

This was true. Every email I get with these so-called “impossible challenges” is the same. It’s the same issue with a different character playing the lead role of the story. Your problems are not unique or special. Your problems yesterday were vanilla and my problems today are strawberry. They’re all flavors of the same milkshake.


6. You’re being selfish

The last very blunt thing I said to this broken man (out of love and respect) was: “You’re being selfish.” I told him that his entire story was about him and his own selfish desires.

Nowhere in the story was there room for anybody else. Nowhere in the story was there a purpose to unite people, or serve people or give something to someone. It was all just about him and how important he was and how he must have all the answers.

“The way you become broken in the first place is when you’re 100% focused on yourself”

Selfishness is at the heart of so many life problems. It’s not all about you, you know. I’d go as far as saying that you should make your life about much more than you.

Once you move away from being entirely selfish, new opportunities start to find their way to you. These opportunities are not luck; these opportunities are the result of you moving beyond just caring about yourself. Until you give a damn about other people, you’re going to continue to be broken.

You started to become broken in the first place when you forgot about everyone else and became obsessed with yourself. Kill the obsession and you’ll find the answer to your dreams.

These are the things I told this young man. These are the same tools you can use if you feel broken.

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

What This Man Gave His Girlfriend to Ease Her “Crippling” Anxiety and Depression

[Image] My girlfriend suffers from, at times, crippling depression and anxiety. I saw this idea somewhere online and decided to make her something like it.

Loving someone who suffers from anxiety or depression is almost as difficult as being the one battling mental illness. You can be left feeling helpless trying to ease their invisible pain. One incredibly thoughtful man used his girlfriend’s struggle as inspiration for a heartwarming gift.

Reddit user bovadeez shared a snapshot of a jar he filled with popsicle sticks for his partner. Each stick was painted either orange, yellow, pink, or white, and depending on the color, he wrote quotes, reminders, things to help her relax, or room for her to write a happy memory. “My girlfriend suffers from, at times, crippling depression and anxiety. I saw this idea somewhere online and decided to make her something like it,” he wrote on Imgur.

He explained that he downloaded a photo of the project to his phone after he saw it online and finally decided to make it for her. “I’m almost 30 and have the penmanship of a 7-year-[old]. . . I can assure you my hands are covered in magic marker and fine-tipped sharpie,” he commented on Reddit. “I considered doing print out labels but I really wanted this to have a touch of personality to it.”

For those interested in making the project for their own significant others, the man explained that the purpose of this is for when his girlfriend gets overwhelmed and starts feeling like she’s losing control. “For the yellow reminders, I said things that were positive and were reminders. So for example, I said things like, ‘You’re beautiful,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help,'” he wrote. “The quotes were taken from some of my favorite authors that were based in inspiration and positive words. The relaxation portions were things that I know she forgets to do like, ‘take a break,’ ‘listen to your favorite song,’ and so on.”

This man explained that sometimes it’s what words can’t say that gets through to his girlfriend, like this gesture, and that although living with someone who shuts down during attacks can be difficult, it’s the most rewarding relationship of his life. “She sometimes gets so caught in what she’s doing she becomes overwhelmed and doesn’t even realize it,” he wrote. “I’m hoping that this will help her – even a little is a lot . . . She’s very special to me. The least I can do is try to help.”

Stonework Artist Navigates Business Start-Up Landscape

Success Story: Vermont

VT Success - LB StoneworkIn today’s financial climate, prospective entrepreneurs must be prepared to create a solid business plan if they expect to obtain business start-up funding. But with lenders expecting more and more concise business planning before they are willing to open up their pockets, it is becoming increasingly difficult for would-be entrepreneurs to draft a plan that lenders will accept.

Luke Bonang, owner of the recently established LB Stonework and Landscaping LLC in Weston, Vermont, learned that fact as he sought to turn his passion for stone construction into a viable business. While Bonang is an expert in high quality stonework construction, he knew he needed assistance navigating the complicated landscape of business start-up financing. That’s why he contacted Vermont Small Business Center (VtSBDC) Area Advisor Brian DeClue.

He said he was motivated to start his business after noticing a niche market for “dry stone construction of hardscapes, including walls, terraces, walkways, landscape design and landscaping needs.” “I sought help from Brian DeClue to assist me with my business plan and, specifically, the financials of the plan in order to seek a small loan from the bank for my start-up business,” Bonang said.  

Bonang and DeClue immediately went to work establishing a complete business plan and financial projections, among other things. “There have been many challenges,” Bonang said. “Although these challenges are ongoing, it has been an amazing process thus far, and I hope to continue to learn and grow as a business owner every day.” Bonang added that he has already noticed his business improving.

“I have seen results from my experience with Brian (DeClue) and VtSBDC, most specifically on the accounting end and properly writing a sound business plan,” Bonang said. “Brian (DeClue) did an excellent job in explaining a somewhat foreign language to me, and he really helped me understand forecasting financial projections and balance sheets. Brian DeClue is an excellent asset to the VtSBDC, and I look forward to utilizing his assistance in the future,” Bonang said.

For more information on LB Stonework and Landscaping LLC, check out www.lbstonework.com. And for more information on VtSBDC, check out www.vtsbdc.org.

A Total Eclipse Is A Rare Event [Infographic]

The last total solar eclipse within the contiguous 48 United States occurred on February 26, 1979. Today’s event is the first one since 1918 where the path of darkness crosses both East and West coasts as well as the first to make landfall exclusively in the U.S. since independence in 1776.