From Freelance Web Developer to SEO Agency Founder: Meet Milan Savov!
Hi Milan, thanks for taking some time for Native Teams today. How are you doing?
Hello, I am great, thanks! First things first, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you and I really hope your readers will find it interesting.
What can you tell us about yourself – who is Milan Savov?
Born and raised in Strumica, Macedonia, 35 years old, a husband and a father to a wonderful 3-year-old daughter. I have a degree as a MS in Software Engineering. During 2011-2014 I worked in a private company as a web developer, and then continued freelancing up until 2018, before SmartClick was founded.
I worked as a freelancer/web developer on more than 150 projects for different kinds of companies – from startups to huge corporations in different countries worldwide; Denmark, England, Australia, USA, Canada, to name a few. I’ve also collaborated with many agencies, and I am proud to say that some of those collaborations are still going strong even today.
When it comes to my spare time, I love travelling and I use every opportunity to visit a new place. Also, I am a big fan of skiing, swimming and reading books as well.
You’ve been working as a Web Developer for more than 10 years. You spent many years freelancing before you founded the SEO & Web Agency SmartClick. Can you tell us more about your journey and how did your career develop?
I’d say a couple of words about the period before I started working as a freelancer. I was a part of a small but fantastic company that consisted of experts from whom I learnt a lot about web development. And not only did I learn about how to expand my expertise, but also I learnt about company culture and how it is to work in a company. It set the basis for my future work prospects and that is why I am so thankful to the amazing team I was a part of.
Freelancing was not as popular then as it is now, so the biggest challenge was the environment in which I was working because for everyone I knew, working from home wasn’t logical at all. However, I stood my ground and overcame the obstacles fast.
It was a new beginning, without clients, without knowing how the day would end because the reality was – there was nothing to work on. So, during that period, I set a goal that I would work the same as I would if I had clients and maintained that routine every day. The difference was – instead of working on real projects I studied, explored and upgraded my skills while working on tasks and issues I found online. At the same time, I started working on my self-organizational skills, how to determine the most productive periods of the day and what to focus on during those periods. Next, I explored the task management tools and which ones would help me best, learnt how to measure the time spent on tasks and, of course, the biggest activity of the day was applying for jobs.
After a while, the first client that decided to give me a chance appeared. Not long after, a second and a third client made a deal with me. The mutual thing about my first collaborations was the fact that I had no financial expectations and was ready to show what I know and can do in order to get positive feedback and review. This would later become one of the key factors for future collaborations with a much larger number of clients.
In the upcoming months, I started receiving requests to create custom email templates, custom dashboards that consisted of more than 100 pages in the backgorund, and sometimes a project of this type could last 4-5 months. When I became an expert in this (confirmed by getting a Badge Top Rated) the clients started recognizing me specifically for that skill. My next step was perfecting my WordPress skills, but again, without using ready to use templates, but developing websites from scratch.
This was the field I focused on most, and when I got too many requests from a large number of clients, I realized I couldn’t continue working alone and at that particular moment the desire for founding a company was born.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I’ll try to describe my typical day, as close as I can get to “a perfectly planned day”. As a freelancer, I always prioritized my responsibilities towards the clients and keeping those in mind I organized my work schedule. However, in cases when I couldn’t make it on time during the work hours that I had previously defined, I always spent some time in the evenings to additionally learn and improve myself.
Today, it is a completely different scenario. As a business owner, you must have control over the whole day, for the simplest of reasons: If I don’t run the business, it will run over me. That is why I always start with my morning routine, and when I am at the office, I start with the main activity that I have previously defined while not making room for any interruptions. The main activity is usually the creation of a system and processes, sales preparations, developing business ideas, defining the weekly, monthly and quarterly goals etc. I usually spend the rest of the work hours on team meetings, client meetings, potential client meetings, and so on.
During your freelancing days, you had a chance to work on many exciting projects. What were the most important or interesting projects you’ve worked on?
I will highlight some collaborations that I consider essential.
Two of them were with Australian Web development agencies where I was completely integrated into their team. We worked together on many projects, but the two companies were completely different, with different company cultures, different systems and all that helped me gain enough experience to see how it all works. As a result, I used the whole experience to create and improve the systems at SmartClick.
The third collaboration was with an IT company from Denmark, which was also one of my first clients as a freelancer, and later I got to meet the CEO personally when I started SmartClick and was very happy that we got to continue with the collaboration.
And, finally, the most important collaboration for me was the one I had with the company Valuer which at that moment was a startup and I was one of the first of their employees responsible for the creation of the site, landing pages that promoted events, and, later, was involved in the development of their dashboard where the matchmaking of investors with startups happened. What I learnt from this company is that things happen very fast and you need to take action and work on achieving the vision, or someone else might have already done it and achieved it. Another thing I learnt is, contacts and networking are the most important things about the success of one company in the longer run.
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of freelancing?
- Flexibility – you work from where you want and how much you want, you do your own work schedule
- Different types of clients from different cultures
- You improve in various segments: organization, sales, self-promotion to get your hands on projects
- Larger profits
- You can choose when, but in reality, you don’t really know your work hours
- Inconsistent volume of work projects, you must have more clients at the same time or looking for more clients in between
- Clients usually have requests they want to be answered immediately
- During vacations, you are not really vacationing, but still working on the laptop so you miss out on precious moments with closed ones
- You don’t have enough time to perfect your main skill
- You work alone, isolated
- You must self-motivate and be self-responsible
- No paid days off, weekends and holidays
- No health and pension insurance
- Self-investment in equipment
I came to realize that freelancing is great, but in the short term.
In 2018 you wanted to switch from freelancing, so you created an agency SmartClick and started offering fully optimized websites to your clients. Can you tell us more about this, how did you start and where is the agency now?
As I mentioned before, at one point I didn’t have enough time to deliver all the work required, so it was obvious that a team/company would provide better services than one man. And on the other side, a lot of my clients were asking me, what can we do better so their websites start ranking higher and generate more organic traffic. And the most interesting part is that at the same time, I met with Branko, also a freelancer at that time, who is an SEO expert and my business partner at the agency, and he shared with me that his clients have terrible websites and it is hard to implement an SEO strategy on a website which is not properly built and prepared for that. So, the idea was born and we started creating a team.
We had many challenges in the meantime – to prove our expertise to our clients, who were very impatient at moments and expected fast results for something that in reality takes time to be achieved and to earn their confidence in the whole process to get to the desired success. There are no regrets whatsoever, because these challenges made us stronger, we learnt a lot. We achieved many things in the right way, so, today, I can say that we have clear systems and processes that are simple to accept and easily onboard new team members.
Where are your agency clients mostly from?
We have clients from the USA, UK / Europe, Israel, and Australia but also from our country. Adeva has been with us for almost 2 years and we have a really successful cooperation.
What are your future plans with the agency, what do you still want to achieve?
Our vision is to be the best Web and SEO agency in the Balkans in the next 3 years. We aim for SmartClick to be a place where everyone would want to work and the team would consist of experts in every field, and with our service we would give even greater value to our clients and would help them grow their business even more. We have the idea and we have already started with its realization – to develop two of our products that would strengthen our expertise and become an even better trustworthy company for our clients.
There is a global shift happening at the moment, the global workforce is switching from offices to working remotely, and flexible schedules seem to be replacing traditional 9-5 schedules and digital nomads seem to be ruling the world. What’s your take on this trend and where do you see the future of work going?
Yes, I agree. The current trend is very different from before. Our experience has shown that the more team members work at the same intervals of the day, the better and easier the mutual communication is between the team and we are able to resolve the challenges promptly.
Of course, flexibility exists and it is allowed to work outside set work hours when it is necessary. On the other hand, the whole team needs to be active at the same period of the day. We often organize Virtual coffee hours or Skill Sharing Hangouts in order to strengthen our team spirit and the company culture. We also think about the future and would definitely accept a remote or hybrid way of operating, but for now, we would hold on to working at the office as long as it is possible.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like spending quality time with my family and drinking coffee with friends (especially in Thessaloniki 😊).
What would you recommend to aspiring new web developers, or generally to people who want to start freelancing?
I want to tell them to be open-minded, eager to learn as much as possible, find a great mentor in some company they admire and don’t care about money early in their career because it could lead them in the wrong direction.
Also, do not expect fast turns of events, give yourselves time and focus on the activities, be disciplined and spend each day some time on your own development.
If you are looking to find a new job, don’t just send your CV but try to create something valuable for that company, even if it is some minor thing – it will make you stand out from the rest of the applicants.
Finally, attend events, as they are really important to learn something new.
If people want to get in contact with you, how can they reach you?
Thank you once again for your invitation and the opportunity to share my story with you.
All the best.