The power of networking took center stage Tuesday night during a reception sponsored by Prudential Financial and the Maine Women’s Network. Roughly three dozen businesspeople, most of them women, enjoyed drinks and appetizers while making new professional contacts at The Portland Regency.

“Prudential has had a long-standing commitment to give back to the community,” said Bill Cuff, who oversees Prudential Financial offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, when he addressed the crowd. “This is another example of giving back to the community … Specifically, we want to give back to women professionals. I have two daughters and I look at life a little differently than when I was a single male.”

He told us how the insurance industry continues to be dominated by men. However, he is working diligently to increase the number of women who work in sales in the agencies he oversees.

He said he is doing this because “the wealth in America is controlled by women” and women tend to be better listeners and relationship builders, which is crucial for a job in sales. Cuff then introduced his boss Caroline Feeney, who is the Eastern territorial vice president for Prudential Financial.

Feeney gave a quick presentation, which touched on achieving work-life balance, succeeding as a woman in a male-dominated industry and using networking effectively.

“I’m not one of the guys, so why try to be one of them,” Feeney told us.

She advised those gathered at the reception to know when to say no and when to laugh rather than get angry or stressed. She also said women should focus less on overcoming weaknesses and invest more time in emphasizing strengths.

“Women in business, we have a tendency to put our heads down and think people will notice” our good work, Feeney said. “What you also need to do is brand yourself. Get out and network.”

A great example of how to use networking is Jane Greer, who told me that after she was laid off she used networking to find another job in the insurance field.

“In this small town, you always have to maintain a good relationship and stay connected with everyone you’ve worked with,” said Greer, who now works for UnitedHealthcare.

For Betsy Hanscom, who runs Maine Warmers, networking is all about building visibility in her home state.

“The majority of my clients are in California and Southern states,” Hanscom said. “My biggest market is online retail sales. One of the things I recently discovered is that people in the town where I live and in Portland don’t know my business.”

Tarsha White of Liberty Mutual told me that networking helps her find new clients and build her business skills.

“I’m in sales,” White said. “In terms of selling, it’s always good to make connections, but networking is also good for finding mentors and sharing ideas.”

Alexandra Heseltine, who runs Gray Cat Marketing, told me that “through networking is how I’ve developed most of my clients.”

She said that at a recent networking event, “I met a woman on Monday night and by Wednesday I was doing an ad for her.”

When I chatted with entrepreneurs Jean Montesanso, who owns Doggie Safe N Dry, and Marianne Russo, who owns Nellie’s Tea & Gifts, they stressed how crucial networking is for small business owners. Both are members of the Maine Women’s Network.

“When you’re self-employed, you can only take on so much,” Montesanso said. Through networking, she’s found other business owners who can take on tasks that help her business grow.

“It’s always surprising how networking leads to something,” Russo said. “For example, it can lead to someone who has a skill I need. I got into this because I love tea. I didn’t do it for the bookkeeping.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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