A Conversation With NAWBO Chicago President Elizabeth Colón, President & CEO of Metaphrasis Language & Cultural Solutions
What inspired you to launch Metaphrasis?
Growing up with parents who didn't speak English and two siblings in the deaf community, I saw how they often didn't have a voice. They were closed out from many experiences around them. Early in my career when I worked in the healthcare industry, I found that people with communication barriers were shut out from more than just social and community ties; it impacted their health and their ability to make informed decisions.
The foundation of my business is that everyone deserves to be understood – not just seen and heard. With 60 million people who have limited English proficiency, there is a huge need for the translation and interpreter services that Metaphrasis offers.
Every business experiences ups and downs. What keeps you in the entrepreneurial game?
I opened my business during the recession so I had to quickly acclimate to a difficult economic environment! COVID has certainly provided another bump in the road. Working with primarily healthcare clients, my work landscape flipped drastically. Throughout the life of my business, the mission of my work drove me forward. Ultimately, while I am a service provider, there is an advocacy arm to my work. Clients work with me because they want to do the right thing and provide services in a way that empowers community members. The role I have in that good work, and my ability to advocate for those who might be overlooked, keeps me motivated.
What lessons have you learned as a woman business owner?
I have learned there will always be people who will overlook women and who will underestimate my abilities. Other women I know have faced more difficulties securing capital for their organizations. I have even had potential clients tell me to make sure their coffee is ready.
First and foremost, I learned to be vocal and not to stand for behavior I don't believe in. I will call people out or end a meeting if needed. I work to earn colleagues' respect – not as a woman but as a business owner.
This has been a particularly difficult year for many business owners. How can women entrepreneurs support each other?
First, there are wonderful opportunities around us to build partnerships. We need to connect with the women-owned businesses around us to tap their strengths and balance our weaknesses, broaden service offerings and help each other to scale our businesses more efficiently.
Second, it is paramount that we, as women, support each other versus seeing each other as a threat. Give advice, mentorship and lend your skills without worrying about what's in it for you. Your return may come down the road. Offer referrals and recommendations, and don't be afraid to be honest and transparent in your communication.
Lastly, I have learned an important lesson when it comes to offering support: Recognize when a colleague is looking for advice versus a listening ear. There's a difference, and it can save both of you a lot of frustration if that is clear up front. Don't be afraid to ask "Are you looking to me to fix it or to simply be here for you?"
How has NAWBO impacted your business?
I have been a part of NAWBO for eight years. I joined for the community. I needed like-minded people to talk about our struggles and challenges. I have always loved the warmth when I walk into a room; it is a very welcoming group. The conversations and energy in these rooms have always motivated me and recharged my energy going forward.
Surprisingly, throughout the pandemic, I have felt an even stronger sense of connection while meeting virtually. With so many working remotely, we have connected and engaged in a deeper way. It has allowed for people to connect across regions and to utilize their time effectively to truly show up during our events.
What excites you about your second year as President of NAWBO Chicago?
I am excited for the unknown, honestly. We truly have no idea what is ahead in our business landscape. I am looking forward to seeing how our organization evolves. We have had great engagement during the pandemic and the Chicago chapter has added the largest number of new members, which is fantastic.
I look forward to continuing to truly meet women where they are in their business cycle and to offer resources, support and a place where they can share and be vulnerable. Adding new members also expands our members' base of experience, which helps our collective voice grow stronger.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
With both new members and many existing members who are not active, remember that your membership has value. All you have to do is show up and participate. Even if you attend one event per month, it will make a positive impact on your life. Our Monthly Connects have been an incredible opportunity for sharing, and our Mastermind groups are the reason why many women renew! Take advantage of both the business savvy and the camaraderie of the group! We have half of the year ahead of us: Take the time to commit and make it a productive six months!