Must ride mule (to & from) work location

“David, this one, tell me about it …”

He’d let me look at his domain name portfolio. Not names he owned and parked, but domains he owned & developed. This was another early project of his – a job board solely focused on the ranching industry. All aspects – cattle, outfitters, dude/guest, hunting, and even associated businesses like horseback riding. He’d launched it in 1998, and done an admirable job developing the brand and building an audience. But other projects had hijacked his attention, and the site had become a bit stale. Its revenue had evaporated.

I knew David from a partnership between DudeRanch.com (mine, at the time) & GuestRanches.com (his). We had grouped them together to sell advertising. A handshake deal. Stronger together, we assumed. And we were right. Over the years, we were able to (more than) double revenue by leveraging the authority of our sites as one entity, versus two.

The more we worked together, the more we shared business opportunities with one another. At one point he shared his portfolio with me, and that’s when I discovered RanchWork.com .

At that time, I’d been poking around for a second project to develop, and came up empty after a year or so of searching. My usual avenue for acquisition, the expiring domain name market, hadn’t yielded anything of value, so my wandering mind lead me to David.

When I uncovered RanchWork, it reminded me of a friend – Shane Pike – who’d built, developed, and successfully sold a nursing job board several years before. And from what I remember, he did it solo. The straightforward nature of job boards was attractive – direct, simple, & sans-fluff.

The niche was compelling, so after I slept on it, I pinged David. To see if he’d let me test a project on it. I was already deeply entrenched in the dude ranching industry, so it seemed like a natural extension. The rough idea was this:

  1. Point the RanchWork.com nameservers to me, and I’ll cover the costs of re-development, plus oversight & maintenance.
  2. Once developed, I’d allow free job listings for ranchers to encourage a regular stream of postings.
  3. I’d also allow paid listings (which would post at a faster clip, and remain active for a longer period.
  4. To ensure simplicity, I’d avoid any type of login or account creation. If a rancher was hiring, they’d simply fill out a form, enter credit card info (if needed), and submit. Done deal.
  5. David would receive 25% of all job board revenue the site collected; the remaining 75% would fall into my pocket. Ad publisher revenue was also under my wing.
  6. David would continue to own the domain, 100%, outright.

What makes it easy (& fun) to work with David is his ‘screw it, let’s do it‘ attitude. I very much admire that about him, as I tend to follow the same outlook on life. And he brought that spirit into this project as well.

So he agreed. And I got to work.

David McCollough & Peter Askew
David McCollough & Peter Askew (the tall idiot)

Now, sure, from the outset, I could have viewed this idea from a defeatist attitude, that being, “What? I’m gonna try to compete with Indeed, SimplyHired, Monster, and the like? They’re VC backed heavyweights… I have no chance.”

I rarely approach projects from this mindset. I tend to approach them from the perspective, “what do I have to lose”. And usually, the answer is “not much”. And then that thought morphs into “let’s see what kinda shit I can stir up”.

So to start, I purchased a $60 job board theme, and took a full week to properly architect the site for mobile devices and seo. I researched competitors. $25 seemed like the average rate for paid job postings, so that became my base price. Another close friend, Brian Clapp, suggested I add a ‘Job Wanted’ listing for folks searching for ranch employment. I was skeptical that need existed, but added it anyway. And then I happily overpaid for the fastest, most reliable WordPress host I could find.

Essentially, the site changed from this:

early RanchWork.com website

to this:

RanchWork.com 2014

An improvement, I thought. Not perfect, but better. Simpler in a way.

I re-launched the site in October of 2013.

At first, I seeded all the jobs myself. Then ranchers started submitting their own. Then I shifted into curation & verification.

Then, over the next 7 years, site traffic did this:

From virtually zero traffic, the site ramped up to roughly 40k-50k visitors a month. Typically 200,000 pageviews every 30 days. I had to start managing overage fees with my hosting provider.

Jobs of all types started pouring in.

As the sole curator, I made sure they followed the singular track I defined. And overall, they did.

Jobs like this, where you had to ride a mule to & from your work location at the Grand Canyon.

Or this one, for a Mountain Permit Rider, responsible for all for all aspects of yearling cattle care & management in private ranch pastures and mountain forest grazing allotments near Cody, Wyoming.

Or this Job Wanted from 2017, an individual looking for work in the Cave Creek / Scottsdale, Arizona area.

Job posting pictures were equally as endearing. All user submitted. Pics like this:

and this:

and all these:

And even that one at the beginning of the essay. (nyeh, no need to scroll back up, here it is again).

The more jobs (and job wanted) postings we listed, the more positive feedback we’d receive. That we were a great help for a remote ranch with limited hiring resources. That they were in financial straits, and our Free offering allowed them to hire the right Manager to turn their operation around. And the avenue I was most skeptical about – Job Wanted postings – wound up assisting individuals who craved an escape from the city into life on a working ranch (as well as contributing 30% of our overall revenue). >> gracias, Mr. Clapp

The feeling was familiar. It felt like my Vidalia project. That I was making a positive impact. Satisfying a unique pain point, subtly, as a solo operator.

This project – originally a passing glance – became my mini workhorse. And such a proud production that I wound up buying the whole project from David in 2017. I doubled down in 2019 by investing $10k into a fancier backend and refreshed design. The site deserved that – a proper identity.

New RanchWork.com

I tend to approach online businesses this way. Not intentionally – I just found myself on this path. Find a good domain name; build a product/service; see if it solves a problem & makes people happy; *and only then* attempt to make it profitable. Purpose always comes first. As does contentment. Revenue always comes second. Sure, this approach has bitten me in the ass before, but I don’t care. When it’s worked, the results are wondrous. And this project checked those boxes.

And while RanchWork.com isn’t a flashy VC funded endeavor, or even some high flying 6-figure revenue generator, it’s not that I don’t care. The site doesn’t care. Cause it’s too busy. Working. Quietly.

My Twitter friend Ian Nuttall identifies these types of projects aptly; as nice, humble internet businesses.

I like humble internet businesses …

… and I’m quite proud to be this job board’s proprietor.


post script

I knew I was in a pickle.

While I owned and operated RanchWork.com, I didn’t own the .com name of this niche industry. That being RanchJobs.com. It was owned by a 3rd party, and undeveloped.

That didn’t sit well with me.

So in 2018, I reached out to the owner. I got lucky, in that – – he responded. We had mutual friends, so that helped. The email:

He was aware of my RanchWork project, and the price point reflected that. And he wouldn’t go lower. I couldn’t wrap my head around the price, so I shelved it.

Until 2020, two years later. When COVID-19 hit. The financial world went sideways. I was a bit frazzled as well. This domain name bubbled up into my brain, though. That this might be an opportunity.

So I leveraged a 3rd party domain marketplace platform where I could remain somewhat anonymous. I submitted an offer of $2,500.

They countered at $9,999.

I didn’t respond.

A broker from the marketplace called. Nice guy. He probed like a domain broker should do. He asked if they got down to $5k, if it’d be a range we’d consider. I wasn’t sure.

They brought the $5k offer to the table.

I understood I was in a halo of time where this price could disappear as quickly as it appeared, so I went ahead & accepted it.

I wanted that chess piece off the board, essentially. Another barrier to entry.

It’s fun to see how many times this domain is typed into a browser, though (238 times per month, tracked via re-direct). If I look at it from an advertising perspective, & apply a $0.50 CPC to each visit, this domain should pay for itself by 2023. 🤠

I’m so fortunate the internet exists.


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Deep South Ventures

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