To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also, dream: not only plan; but also believe”.
Staying home in your pajamas watching movies, eating chips and chocolates… that, which fascinates Elizabeth Colón so much, sounds like a perfect plan for this quarantine. Even though she’s locked up in her house, she can’t do these things as often as she’d like. The world is in crisis, and her phone is ringing off the hook as she is working hard to help others.
For a professional mentor and motivator, with an entrepreneurial background, Elizabeth spends a lot of her time making sure that her team, which does interpretation in hospitals, has everything it needs.
Her company currently has an important responsibility to establish better communication bridges between doctors and patients who seek care but do not speak English well.
Born and raised in Chicago, Elizabeth is a speaker, co-author, and CEO of the award-winning language services company Metaphrasis Language and Cultural Solutions, LLC.
A simple word to describe her would be “giver”. She has become well-known, loved, and respected in her industry and in the Chicago business community because she is always helping others achieve their goals.
Her mother is the first person that comes to mind when she is looking for direction. Watching her mother struggle through daily adversities to make her way as a single parent always gave Elizabeth the inspiration she needed.
Growing up in a home with two deaf sisters and parents who barely spoke English, Elizabeth saw, from an early age, the many ways language can become a barrier.
That experience inspired her to become a language advocate. Elizabeth knew that her mission would be to give a voice to those who could not communicate for themselves.
Although she began her career as a medical interpreter, her entrepreneurial spirit quickly led her to invest her only savings (which 13 years ago was only $500) and build Metaphrasis, a world-class company that breaks down cultural barriers and has allowed her to enter diverse markets and foster a sense of community among clients and strategic partners.
Metaphrasis is a full-service language company that connects businesses with their customers and their community. Its services include on-site interpretation, telephone interpretation, video remote interpretation, sign language interpretation, document translation, cultural diversity training, language proficiency testing and consulting.
Please watch the following video and understand the fascinating story of how Metaphrasis Language & Cultural Solutions began and the circumstances that inspire its mission.
In recent years, the challenge has been facing competition from other companies that lower their rates to obtain business. Unfortunately, she warns, lower rates lead to lower quality services, which can compromise patient/client outcomes.
With over 20 years of experience in the language services industry, Elizabeth has garnered national praise for leadership and expertise in her field. Chicago Business Journal named her Woman of Influence (2016), the National Association of Women Business Owners’ Woman Business Owner of the Year
award (2015), the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Person of the Year award (2014), and Enterprising Woman of the Year award (2013). She also sits on the board of the Norwegian American Hospital Foundation board and soon to be President-Elect of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) – Chicago Chapter.
She enjoys sharing her success story with other female entrepreneurs. Elizabeth works hard to provide women with the guidance and tools necessary to become vibrant leaders and build resilient businesses. In this, she also hopes to open doors for young women who aspire to be business owners. Elizabeth is married to Edwin Rivera, a former principal with the Chicago Public Schools system. Together they have four children. One is a teacher with CPS, another is a pilot, one is pursuing a career in acting and modeling and, Mario Estefan, an aspiring basketball player is 16 years old.
Read Elizabeth’s full response below. The questions were formulated by the IHCC team and responded back to us by email.
How should Hispanic women who own a small business face this crisis?
The pandemic hit us like a speeding train and caught us off guard. Some are still thriving, but many women have lost their businesses; others are holding on by a thread. In these situations, it is okay for people to feel afraid, insecure and sad, but this can only last for a short time. In order to make it through these obstacles, we must channel our fear and fuel it into an opportunity. Look at how other businesses are pivoting by using technology and see where you can do the same. If technology is something you can’t implement to keep your business running, how can you keep your customers engaged? How can you begin to work remotely and deliver the same service? Restaurants went from in-room dining to curbside pick-up, beauty salons are offering DIY hair coloring kits, and I went from providing on-site interpreting services to over the phone and video remote interpreting. New opportunity awaits everyone. Sit still and plan it out.
How can an entrepreneur create an opportunity and prepare for the future after COVID-19?
I believe that after the pandemic is over, businesses will never be the same. Business owners had no choice but to change how they ran their business overnight. At Metaphrasis, we had to recreate our business model and implement technology to communicate with our customers. For example, using a platform like Zoom to have meetings and, most recently, teaching our medical interpreter training course on-line. Some of us will continue business as usual, but others who understand the benefits that lie in the advancement of technology will most likely keep using technology as a way to do business.
What do we need to do to avoid being afraid of change?
We need to look at fear as an opportunity to rise. Fear is a feeling of uncertainty that leaves one paralyzed. If we take a deep breath and sit still with it for a moment, we can overcome the feeling and start focusing on the opportunity. A friend of mine recently called me one morning with a sense of uncertainty because she was losing contracts and, on that morning, she had already lost two contracts within hours. I reminded her to go back to when she started her business. She opened her business with her husband. Over the years they managed to grow it into a multi-million dollar company. My advice was to focus on that time when she was just a solo-entrepreneur and find ways to grow her business once again. I also suggested that she shift her energy and see this as a new beginning for new business ideas.
How can you inspire others as a leader of this community?
There are always opportunities to inspire others from your community. No one knows your true story until you share it; someone may look at you and say that you are fortunate to have the success you have. What they may not know is that your story may resemble theirs. We should pay it forward by inspiring other Hispanics to pursue the opportunities exist for all us.
How can we, as women, optimize our mental and emotional well-being?First, create an awareness and need for self-care. Depending on each individual, this can be as simple as taking a walk, doing yoga, or writing in a journal. For others, it may be having a glass of wine, doing breathing exercises, or playing board games with their family. I have found that doing a daily meditation keeps me grounded and at peace. I am often surprised by how calm and patient I have become since starting my mediation ritual. If I am facing a situation that I know will stress me out, I walk away and sit still for a moment. As women, we want to handle everything at the cost of our well-being. We need to remember that we are and can be as fragile as a flower and when it is time to ask for help, it’s okay to do so.
How can one strive, personally and professionally, to reach a leadership position?
There is a widely used saying among Hispanics “More important to know who you are, is to know where you come from.” Your personal history is very important in your professional development. What has had the most impact? My mother raised six children on her own and that experience taught me to stay humble, honest, focused on work and school and, respect others if you want to be respected. These values are what shaped my values within my own business. I do not take anything for granted because today I may be successful and tomorrow my circumstances could change.
How can other women take advantage of their personal experiences to advance their careers?
Before the current crisis, we did not have time for many of the things we’ve wanted to accomplish. Since COVID-19, most all of the states have the shelter-in-place order, leaving us with extra time on our hands. This is a great opportunity to enroll in an online course, connect with someone you have been meaning to ask to mentor you, find on-line networking events, or if you are an expert in a subject, start a blog.
How do you go from being an individual collaborator to a leader?
If you have been serving as a collaborator and want to step into a leadership position, offer to take the lead on a project, participate in meetings and contribute by sharing your ideas, offer to mentor someone younger or a co-worker, and ask questions. The best advice someone gave me when I started in my field was not to be afraid to say I don’t know, followed by a question. I became a good leader because I asked questions without pretending to know things I didn’t know. Finally, once you become a leader, always lead by serving others before yourself.
How can you focus on driving an entire team to success and not just yourself?
When you have a team, you must empower them to be the best version of themselves. When speaking about your business, always say “we”. Include them in the decision-making process and allow them to make mistakes, let them contribute their ideas and provide them with the necessary tools and resources for growth. I have always said that the success of my company isn’t because of me; it is because of my entire team.
What important things do you wish you’d known before starting your business?
There were many things I wish I had known before starting my business. First, I would say that owning a business is not for everyone. You need to be a risk-taker to do so. It is not easy; it requires many sacrifices at the beginning. Don’t expect to know everything. If you try to take this approach of controlling everything, you may end up working in your business, not on it. When you work in your business, you won’t make money.
How can companies give more opportunities to female talent?
I remember when I was a non-profit Director and I was hiring an assistant. One of the persons that came to the interview did not dress properly and did not have all the right answers. What she told me at the end of the interview got her hired. She said, “If someone just gave me a chance, I know I am a good worker”. Today, I can honestly say there was something that I liked about her and I’ll never regret hiring her. She worked hard, arrived on time every day and rarely took a day off. Hiring her was one of the best decisions I made, sadly she moved on after 8 years. I share the story because companies should look beyond whether the person has the education in some cases, and concentrate on their achievements, how they perform on the job, how involved they are, and what talents they have that will benefit your company. The idea is find someone with high potential and give them access to a mentor and professional development, while making sure they know the company is investing in them.
How do you create, even within a small the company, an environment where everyone contributes the best of their personalities?
My company is built with a diverse array of people from around the world. Working in the language services industry has taught me that people come with a wide variety personalities, beliefs, and worldviews. I embrace that and understand that not everyone is outgoing like me, but that doesn’t mean they’re not as hardworking as I am. Whatever personality they bring to work, is good enough for me. To maintain our company culture, we all work very hard, but we also have fun Fridays, where we all work together from the conference room. We listen to music, play Jenga and tell jokes. Everyone has fun! Even the more serious types smile and laugh with us.
How do you analyze the IHCC’s role in our Illinois business community?
IHCC has been a catalyst in the Hispanic community. Since becoming a member over 5 years ago, I have found that the entire team has always been proactive about the external environment and keeping their members informed. They are a mighty force that connects its members to opportunities that lead to business growth. They work hard and make sure the Hispanic voice is considered when making every decision.
What should be the role of organizations like IHCC during this crisis period?The IHCC must play a key role in educating Hispanics about business loans that are available to us, hold organizations accountable for having materials and information translated into Spanish, and make sure that banks and other institutions make it a priority to include and set aside money for the Hispanic community.
How does being an IHCC member benefit your business?
The reason I remain an IHCC member is because they have always extended themselves to help even when I did not know I needed it. They are transparent and are proud of the work they do. When I attend their breakfast meetings, it is like being at home – hugs, and kisses.