From controller to consultant

 Jian Xiao, CPA, CGMA, is founder and CFO of Turning Point Solutions on Long Island, N.Y.
Jian Xiao, CPA, CGMA, started consulting because she needed more flexibility after her son was born 10 years ago. (Photo by Amy Sussman/AP Images)

Jian Xiao, CPA, CGMA, is founder and CFO of Turning Point Solutions on Long Island, N.Y. For more than nine years, she has provided services including treasury management, planning, accounting, reporting, valuation advisory, and startup training to small and midsize business owners and technical accounting training to finance professionals. She reflects on how she chose consulting, its advantages, and advice for others considering consulting.

How and why I started consulting: Prior to having my son 10 years ago, I was an international controller and director of the Financial Management Group at MetLife. When my son was born, I kept the job but quickly realized I needed more flexibility. I was on call around the clock. I knew family came first, but I didn't want to stop working altogether.

Taking the first step: I had extensive experience in strategic financial management in various sectors but wanted to refine my skills as a technical trainer. I saw teaching as a way to develop these skills. At Baruch College, where I'd graduated, I taught in the evenings and on weekends. I later developed a strategic diversified teaching platform through MBA programs and executive professional trainings at various institutions.

Rewards and challenges: One of the most rewarding aspects of consulting is the freedom I enjoy to pick my projects, and the flexibility. If I don't like a project, or don't think I can handle it, I don't take it.

One of the biggest challenges for me was learning how to market myself. As a faculty member, I attend conferences. I can meet someone at an audit conference and get invited to work with them or invite them to visit my class. It builds a relationship that can lead to not only rewarding business opportunities but also priceless lifelong friendships.

Advice to others considering consulting: Know your short-term and long-term priorities. I continue to identify what my priority is right now and what I envision for the next five to 10 years.

Becoming a consultant doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to find work. Ask yourself if you can afford to do that.

Last, keep networking. Open yourself up to new people and new opportunities. Volunteer and attend free lectures. Don't go just to "take" (improve your skills or create business opportunities), but to give back as well.

— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in North Carolina

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