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From 0 to 225,000 followers in weeks: How Shadé Zahrai did it

Lucy Dean
·5-min read
Shadé Zahrai has used her brand of workplace wisdom to carve a powerful TikTok niche. Images: TikTok, shadezahrai (Instagram).
Shadé Zahrai has used her brand of workplace wisdom to carve a powerful TikTok niche. Images: TikTok, shadezahrai (Instagram).

Leadership strategist and entrepreneur Shadé Zahrai can remember when she went viral for the first time.

"She had launched her TikTok (@shadezahrai) in mid-April after the coronavirus pandemic punctured her plans to leave the corporate world and concentrate on expanding their leadership and workplace performances training business she ran with her husband."

Face-to-face meetings were not going to happen, events were out of the question and being in Melbourne, even leaving her house was a pipe dream.

They decided to pivot to online and test out the TikTok platform. As Zahrai thought, if they could help even 10 or 20 people, it would be well worth the effort, and she also knew that her clients of the future were using TikTok today.

Then, in May, she posted a video that caught on like wildfire. “People judge you on these two things,” the text read. In it, she explained the importance of two things in the workplace: warmth and competence.

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It quickly racked up 1.9 million views, with Zahrai scoring 255,000 followers within weeks.

Today, she has 371,000 followers and has used the social media platform to forge connections and partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, CEOs and others just looking for online coaching.

She and her partner have been able to replace their entire revenue and become a truly global business.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance to mark National Boss Day, Zahrai said she never would have dreamed it would take off in the way it has.

The secret to Shadé Zahrai’s TikTok success

Zahrai believes there was a confluence of factors behind her TikTok’s runaway growth.

“One of them is definitely the uncertainty that the Covid-19 situation has brought,” she said.

“A huge number of people have found themselves unemployed because they’ve been furloughed or made redundant.”

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One of her best-performing videos is on how to answer one of the classic job interview questions. It got more than 2 million views in a week, with all of her interview videos resonating strongly on the platform.

“The majority of people who use TikTok are of the younger demographic [and] their entire future is different now too. Typically in the past, you graduate and it’s relatively easy to find a job. Now the whole situation and the whole environment has changed,” she said.

“It’s much more competitive because there are so many fewer opportunities. People are very aware of that, especially young people, because everything they’ve been working towards is now different, and so there’s a real desire to better themselves, to learn and to grow.”

Zahrai believes TikTok fuels this desire: for a platform based around videos of challenges and ingenuity, its bread and butter is creativity.

“It’s designed to make people feel really good, so when they come across these little bite-sized pieces of edu-tainment, as we call it, they’re in a really positive state to also receive it,” she said.

“And they may not actively go out and seek that, but if you can give it to them in these bite-sized pieces, really palatable, fun music and then pop-up text on the screen, it’s allowing that personal and professional development piece to just infuse itself into their daily behaviours.”

Continuing, Zahrai said another benefit is that TikTok’s video-only format means followers build trust more quickly with personalities, because they’re seeing them every day.

Then there’s the content itself. Zahrai studied psychology and law before moving into banking and finance. Along the way she’s also been a competitive Latin dancer and is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council.

Her top tip for getting through Covid-19

One of the biggest strategies Zahrai shares with leaders comes down to how they view the world, and taking a moment to reassess it.

When the pandemic hit, health risks, economic, and labour market concerns took over.

Everyone went into crisis mode, and while this is human nature, Zahrai said that when we perceive something as a crisis, it triggers the flight or fight response.

“You have all these physiological processes that are going on within you that are actually not helpful for you to be able to think rationally and stay logical, because you’re trying to run on survival instinct,” she said.

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Instead, she said it’s helpful to try to switch to become more opportunity-minded. When we do this, the body releases adrenaline, your blood vessels and lungs dilate and more oxygen is released into the prefrontal cortex which is used for logic and rationality.

“It gives you the mental clarity that you need to actually start to consider, ‘Okay what can we do here? What is within our control?’”

But, she added, mindset is about more than just seeking out opportunities.

“It’s human nature to be challenged by things that are unexpected. We talk about mindset and we help people with their mental resilience, but we also help them understand that if they’re feeling anything unusual, it’s actually completely natural.”

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