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3 Lessons in Running a Heart-led Venture From a Former Bachelorette Following your heart isn't taught in business school — but here's why it's the best advice for entrepreneurs navigating an economic downturn.

By Jillian Harris Edited by Chelsea Brown

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

vencavolrab | Getty Images

Growing up, both of my parents were entrepreneurs. I watched them work tirelessly and saw how their passions became their purpose — thankfully, I inherited their drive. From a young age, I threw myself into my professional pursuits, but as much as I enjoyed carving out my career by 29, I knew I wanted more. I wanted to have a family, but for whatever reason, it wasn't happening for me. So, when the opportunity came to be on The Bachelor — the iconic American reality TV show that aims to help young couples find lasting love — I took it.

It was a heart-led decision that led to life-altering opportunities and heartbreaking lows. At one point, I felt I'd failed. I felt that because I wasn't successful at finding love on national TV, I'd let down my parents and humiliated our family in our small town. I felt truly defeated. In many ways, the experience became a catalyst for how I operate both personally and professionally today.

Fast forward 14 years; I now run three seven-figure businesses, have built an online community of over 2.2 million and have a hard-working team of 22 individuals. But most importantly, also have two beautiful children and a fiance who mean everything to me.

I'd like to say all these achievements came from following my heart, but the truth is more in the middle. It's been a process of getting aligned on my purpose and values, then reverse engineering my vision into my business plans. And while our businesses are thriving — the last several years have been some of the toughest I've experienced. The current economic climate has challenged me to rethink my business strategy just like I did 14 years ago. In the thick of the pandemic, I looked at my businesses with a clear lens and realized I had to align them closer to my values.

Changing from a model that had proven to be successful was risky, but I firmly believe running a heart-led venture is what has brought our companies to the next level, and I know it can do the same for others. Here are three ways running a heart-led venture can help your business during an economic downturn:

Related: Heart-Based Leadership Makes People and Businesses Come Alive

1. Heart-led leaders get greater employee buy-in

When you're leading a team or a company, we often think we need to have all the answers. We believe we have to be right, powerful and strong in order for people to follow us. When, in fact, the opposite is true. As leaders, it's when we share our vulnerabilities — show our mistakes or ask for help — that we humanize ourselves, which can create stronger relationships with our teams.

In a recent study by the Potential Project, in conjunction with Harvard Business Review, leaders and employees from 5,000 companies across 100 countries were surveyed on the topic of compassionate leadership. The study found when leaders combined compassion for their people with the courage to be transparent, not only did they create stronger connections with their team, but job satisfaction improved by 86%, engagement grew by 53%, and burnout improved by 64%.

I've found that when I'm transparent about what is important to me, not just professionally, but also personally, my team becomes more invested — not just in me but in the growth of our companies and what we are building together. When the economy is uncertain, you want a team that's invested in weathering the hurdles.

2. When you operate with heart, your customers become your community

Social media was still in its infancy when I made my debut as the Bachelorette in 2009 — in fact, I didn't join a single social platform until five years later (fun fact; it was my fiance, Justin, who convinced me to join Instagram years ago, although I know many days he regrets that!). Being on a hit TV show gave me a platform, but many of my social media followers today don't know me as Jillian, the "Bachelorette" or (later) as the TV host of Love It Or List It Vancouver. They found me organically through my online content.

On social media, my main goal is not to sell products. I transparently share experiences that show where my heart and head are at and what I personally value. Those who've chosen to follow my journey online are often aligned with my personal and professional pursuits.

I don't think of my community as customers (although many of them support my businesses, which I'm grateful for). Building and nurturing a community ultimately drives brand loyalty, especially as consumers become more discerning about spending amidst rising inflation. By humanizing your business — showing the real emotions, aspirations and values behind it — you attract and create a loyal community that is more likely to stick by you when times get tough.

Related: 8 Proven Ways to Curate Your Customers into a Community

3. Knowing your heart makes hard decisions easier

Running your business with heart doesn't mean you'll always be laughing in the face of adversity. During economic downturns, all businesses are forced to make hard decisions that affect real people: layoffs, budget cutbacks, what initiatives to prioritize, etc. These challenges can be intensified when you operate with heart.

However, when global economic forces are out of your control, and you're just focused on your bottom line, you'll never succeed. By getting clear on your "why" — the reason you operate your business in the first place and the values you want to uphold — making difficult decisions becomes easier.

For example, when I first started engaging in brand partnerships on social media, I wasn't very discerning. The whole concept of a brand wanting to pay me money for promoting a product or service was new, and I didn't fully understand the implications for my businesses. I knew my brand valued community, transparency, warmth, humor and igniting inspiration, so it only made sense to partner with brands that held similar values and whose products I loved. Just as we'd solidified our partnership requirements, however, the largest-paying project offer we'd had to date came through. The project wasn't a lot of work, and it met some of our partnership requirements, but I wasn't convinced it was fully aligned with our values.

The amount the brand was offering could have funded my team's benefits and a physical office — neither of which we had at the time. Not to mention, Justin and I just had our first baby and were in the middle of building our first family home. But in the end, I decided to follow my heart and turn it down. Creating long-term trust with my community trumped the short-term gain. As tough of a decision as it was, knowing what we stood for made it easier.

Related: Holding True to Your Values Is an Essential Decision-Making Metric

When your values guide your business decisions, you're more likely to be understood and respected by your stakeholders. During an economic downturn, it's important to explore new revenue streams, but only if they align with your purpose.

Sometimes when you lead with your heart, things don't work out. Counter to what traditional business culture has dictated, however, leading with vulnerability can actually help your company, particularly through an economic downturn. If you don't tap into what your heart wants and risk going after it, you'll never be able to define success on your own terms or attract the right people to help you create it.

Jillian Harris

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of The Jillian Harris Design Inc.

Jillian Harris is the Founder of Jillian Harris Design and The Jilly Academy, Co-Author of Fraiche Food Full Hearts and Co-Founder of The Jilly Box.

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