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Mary Owens and Lisa Huetteman started feeling a little like Susan Lucci, the longtime All My Children star who received 19 Daytime Emmy Award nominations before finally winning.

Owens and Huetteman, proprietors of the business coaching firm Black Diamond Associates, were among nominees last week for one of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Of The Year Awards - for the third consecutive year.

The third time proved to be the charm as Black Diamond captured the coveted award for best home-based business. Over lunch at Ploy Thai, I talked to Mary and Lisa about the victory, and about the advice they offer in these difficult economic times.

Pull up a chair and join us.ERNEST: Congratulations. You must be pleased.

MARY: When they announced our names before we went up, and when we hugged each other afterwards, it was just a great affirmation. We love what we do and a lot of people believe in us. What meant even more was the applause we received when they showed our video before they announced us as the winners.

LISA: The applause that erupted in the room when they showed that video. That room cheered for us. That was cool.So you're business coaches. Is it a little daunting to go in and tell someone they're not properly operating their business?

MARY: A consultant will come in and study them and say here's what you're doing wrong. We guide them in a way that they find it themselves, and when they find it themselves, they own it and they own the solutions. Most people have the skill and knowledge they need. What's getting in the way is their attitudes and habits.

LISA: Instead of saying, "You're really messed up here." We would come in and say, "How's that working for you? Is it getting you what you want and what part of that do you own?" It's helping people take personal responsibility. If you continue to blame and make excuses, you're going to continue to be where you are. I guess one of the excuses is, "Good help is hard to find."

MARY: We've had situations where it's, "My people are the issue." But no one's leading them. They're the ones hiring them. They're responsible for their employees' success or lack thereof.

LISA: My favorite is when someone says, "We have a lot of deadwood around here." The question is, "Were they dead when you hired them or did you kill them?"What do you advise about the challenging economic times?

MARY: That's a choice. We can choose to buy into all negative fear or we can choose not to participate in the recession. Most business owners put in hard work. Well, when you choose not to participate, you're probably going to work harder than you ever have because there's business out there. You might have to shift, you might have to do things differently, but take that excuse away.

LISA: Business is conducted every day. The question is, "Are you going to do it or are you going to let your competitor do it?"How do employers keep employees happy and motivated during this time?

MARY: I think the biggest thing is being open and honest and communicating with them. Fear is uncertainty. When people feel like they're in limbo, it magnifies itself. Help people understand what's going on and help them with what they can do to help.

LISA: It's acknowledging people's fears, but also understanding what motivates them. Motivating people in trying times versus motivating people in regular times is the same. I think a lot of employers miss the boat on what's really important to their employees and how they should motivate them.If we're worried about getting laid off, should we spend more time at work to impress the bosses?

MARY: When we try to outwork, the risk of disrupting the balance between professional and personal and upsetting that personal side is huge. Eventually, it catches up and you become less effective.

LISA: I don't think hours worked is a measure of success. One of my mentors from early in my career shared with me what one of his mentors told him: "You are not impressing me by being here late every night. It's simply telling me that you don't know how to work productively during normal working hours." The measure really needs to be are you accomplishing all your goals, not how many hours it's taking you to do that.

DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest

Mary and Lisa say it was a faith-based journey that prompted them to start Black Diamond. Lisa was a business development director and Mary a sales manager, but the desire to spend more time with family helped them take a different career path. Says Mary, "When you place God first in your business and your career, great things will happen."

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at or 226-3406.