Life sciences - Zoe Bishop-Beal's specialism - KeyCheck Translation Blog

Zoe Bishop-Beal and her change of direction (guest post)

As promised in my last post, today’s piece has been written by Zoe Bishop-Beal (buzztranslations). I met Zoe when I was demonstrating CAT tools at the MA Applied Translation Studies course at the University of Leeds. She kindly shared with me why she decided to complete the course and how things have been since. Enjoy!

Life sciences - Zoe Bishop-Beal's specialism - KeyCheck Translation Blog

One of Zoe’s specialist areas is life sciences

A change of direction

After many years in technology management in a multinational publishing corporation, I came to freelance translation as a mid-life career changer when the pull of my first love, the French language, became too strong. Starting an MA in Applied Translation Studies (MAATS) at the University of Leeds in 2010, I took with me little more than an open mind, a sense of my immense good fortune and a whole host of questions to which I needed to find answers, one way or another: was I right to abandon the relative security of corporate life for self-employment? How would I cope with returning to university and being amongst a cohort who would likely be just over half my age? How would I find my first client (and the next one, and the one after that …)? Was I really disciplined enough to complete a tax return? Could I actually make a living as a freelance translator offering a single, common language combination (French to English)?

I graduated from the MAATS programme in 2012 after two years of part-time study. The course proved to be an excellent grounding in the theory and practice of translation itself, with plenty of opportunity for discussion of the treatment of a wide variety of texts. A significant element of the programme was the CAT tools module, which covered a number of the applications in use in the industry, and included project simulations with a client, a project manager and a team of translators – and some intentional technical issues, too! This was really the extent of the practical business-focused input provided by the programme, no doubt reflecting the cohort demographic and the structure of the industry, with project management representing the point of entry into the language services industry for many MAATS graduates.

Finding – and keeping – clients

I launched my translation business, buzztranslations, in March 2012, around three months prior to completing the course, drawing on the business and IT knowledge gained in my corporate life to offer technical and commercial translation to potential agency clients. I soon came up against the ‘brick wall’ of three years’ translation experience (or more) that many agencies demand, and my first clients came through a combination of contacts (former classmates now in project manager roles) and the successful completion of test pieces. While the rights and wrongs of this approach are hotly debated, as a ‘newbie’ it has proven to be a worthwhile investment for showcasing skills in the absence of a demonstrable history. My prior career experience has served me well in terms of retaining clients, with a focus on building ‘trusting partnerships’, customer service and quality of delivery – after all, you’re only as good as your last translation – coming relatively easily. It has also meant being able to provide flexibility in terms of the texts I can take on, particularly in the business arena: corporate life provides exposure to budget management, HR policies and corporate communications, all of which could, I would think, seem particularly arcane in the absence of such experience.

Training has also proven to be a good way to make new industry contacts and through them, to access potential clients. If, like me, the thought of ‘selling yourself’ at an organised business networking event brings you out in a cold sweat, then attending ITI area or interest group events, or training sessions, may be a less daunting way to approach it to begin with – quite apart from the opportunity for social contact, and the professional and personal benefits that CPD brings.

Building a business

Setting up as a sole trader in the UK is a relatively simple matter of registering as self-employed with HMRC and, well, off you go! I made a small investment in branding, to create an identity and associated items of stationery (templates for quotes and invoices and business cards), with an eye to future development as much as anything. Similarly, I created a very simple website (, deliberately excluding any SEO so that no-one would find it while I was still thinking about it. Eighteen months later, I am still thinking about it … and the same goes for my five-year business plan! Having said that, I haven’t neglected the planning completely: having recently attended the wonderful Marta Stelmaszak’s Business School for Translators, I am beginning to think more strategically, and to formulate a plan for the medium-term growth of my little business. Marta’s advice is to “start before you’re ready”, cutting down the scope for procrastination, a lesson which, just like ‘good enough is good enough’ in the corporate environment, is one that I will have to learn. However, when you’re focusing on ‘making it work’, developing a client base and a steady income stream in the immediate, it’s not easy (or perhaps it’s easier not to) take time out to plan further ahead.

Just over 18 months into my freelance career, I am starting to find my niche in a couple of subject areas in particular: finance, and – joy of joys! – life sciences. There were a variety of reasons that I did not combine science with languages at a younger age, and it has been a revelation to rediscover this interest and properly nourish my long-suppressed ‘inner nerd’ with texts dealing with developments in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

The answers!

Looking back at the questions that I posed myself three years ago, then, I think I have my answers: despite the long hours and the potential for isolation, I love my freelance lifestyle; I coped just fine with being a (very) mature student on the MA course, especially as there were a few of us (although I wouldn’t recommend starting to think you’re 23 again – it’s a bit of a shock when you then look in the mirror!); my experience has been that the most effective way to find agency clients initially is to approach those agencies that ask for a test piece, and to take advantage of networking opportunities; I hired an accountant to do my tax return (although that might be an easier decision here in West Yorkshire than at London accountants’ rates); and yes, I am making a living and can see a development path for my business. Glad I made the leap? You bet!

Buzz Translations logoZoe Bishop-Beal is a French to English translator specialising in business, finance and life sciences following a first career in IT management and an MA in Applied Translation Studies at the University of Leeds.



Are you a relatively new freelance translator? Or perhaps in the past you also made the decision to change your career – did the translation industry rise up to your expectations? Please share your thoughts!

If you have lots of thoughts to share, feel free to contact me to discuss the possibility of writing a guest post – I’d love to hear from you!

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