When technology journalist Amber MacArthur started working on air as a TV host, she was terrified of the camera and the lights - and just about everything else.
"The first time I did a show out in the field, it took 20 times to get my intro down pat," says Ms. MacArthur, 34, founder of Web agency MGI Media, technology specialist, TV personality and author of Power Friending: Demystifying Social Media to Grow Your Business.
"Over time, practice makes perfect. I invested time and energy into learning the craft and understanding the content. It's paid off."
And there was lots of practice. Ms. MacArthur did as many as 20 one-hour shows a week, sometimes four in a day. She got that first TV job in 2004 by creating the opportunity herself. While working as a Web strategist for Microsoft she rented a video camera, and using her Mac computer and iMovie she shot and edited her own demo reel. She then sent it to G4TechTV in Toronto and asked for an on-air job hosting.
That move got her on the Call for Help show initially as a guest, but later, when the co-host quit, Ms. MacArthur landed the host spot.
"The biggest challenge I faced when I started out in the digital world was that there weren't many women reporting on technology," says Ms. MacArthur. "I was young and blonde so people assumed that I wasn't that smart and that I didn't understand what I was talking about. I worked extra-hard, staying up until two and three in the morning to study everything about every gadget and website, because I knew I had to be educated."
She credits Leo Laporte, her co-host on the show, for being a really good mentor and for giving her solid career advice.
"He always told me to focus on content - on learning and being able to teach people things," says Ms. MacArthur. "He advised me not to think about my appearance or about 'sexing it up' (like she says she sees some women doing when they talk technology on camera), but to really focus on knowing my stuff.
"I really wanted to project a professional image because you can only do that sex stuff for so long. I wanted a career as a technology journalist, not just for five years, then fade. I feel I've been in control of being able to create my own destiny. With all the tools you have these days, like creating your own website, you can really build your own brand."
Another thing Ms. MacArthur did was to network as much as possible.
"When people asked me to be an expert on a show, I didn't care if it was an online radio show with two listeners - I did it," says Ms. MacArthur. "I tried to meet as many people as possible, to build my own brand and have good relationships."
When she was growing up, it was her mother, a computer teacher, who first got her interested and comfortable around technology. After completing an arts degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Ms. MacArthur continued on to major in online journalism at the University of Kings College. After graduation in 1999, she followed a boyfriend to San Francisco at the height of the dot.com boom and got a job at a company called Razorfish, a marketing and consulting agency.
"My job there was actually creating content and brand strategies - something I knew nothing about - but I learned a lot about brand building on the Web and about how to create a digital brand," says Ms. MacArthur. "From that moment on, I knew that this was something I was going to do (for myself), and I had the skills and knowledge to do it in an effective way."
Ms. MacArthur has three words of advice for entrepreneurs who want to build their brand online:
No. 1: Make sure you have a website. Tools such as SquareSpace and Wordpress make it really easy to build your own site.
No. 2: Use a lot of social media tools to get out there and network. Integrate tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook into your website, so essentially your website is a home base for all of your branding efforts.
No. 3: E-mail really is a social network. The number of people who e-mail you on a regular basis is enormous. So within your e-mail network, turn your signature into something where you link to your personal website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and really use that to promote yourself.
"Anyone wanting to enter the digital world as a career needs to learn as much as possible," says Ms. MacArthur, who writes a blog for The Globe and Mail. "That means going online, networking with people, finding people you admire and contacting them. Don't be intimidated. Just go out there and reach for whatever it is you want and use all the tools we have available right now. We're living in a world where you can access anyone these days. Chances are they're somewhere online."
Special to The Globe and Mail