The past several years have been especially financially difficult for many of us, and large numbers of people have experienced job loss, drastic reductions in their work hours, loss of health care benefits, home foreclosure, bankruptcy, and other unforeseen challenges. We have been hearing about this constantly, and we are being reassured that the economy is "on the mend." Some of us have seen evidence of this, and yet many others have not. We know the circumstances and factors that facilitated these problems, but just knowing is not enough. It can be difficult to feel empowered when we start to consider ways of "getting ahead," and can seem like the odds are totally against us.
In the spring of 2012 I found myself unable to find any employment beyond a very low wage job, and was of course feeling very frustrated about this! After all, I have kids! I have food to buy, rent to pay, student loans to pay off, and I needed fuel for the car. I quickly realized that $8 dollars an hour wasn't going to cut it. I knew I needed to find an "under the table" way of earning extra money, and began to play with the idea of hiring myself out to do local people's yard work.
At that point, I briefly considered trying to earn money online, but I intuitively understood that most of the opportunities I was finding were nothing more than scams. Filling out surveys for half of a cent each, waiting for some distant date for payout, and having to wade through innumerable pages of absolute garbage was not an option. I knew I had a very strong work ethic, and was not opposed to getting dirty, wet, muddy, or briar- scratched. Deciding that offering to do people's yard work was the way to go, I composed a Craigslist posting and put it in the "services offered" section of the website. All along I felt convinced that nobody would respond to it. After about a week, something amazing happened-multiple people began to respond!
I got responses, and I got started as soon as possible. At that point, I worked during the week AND the weekend at my regular job, so I had to find the time to fit my schedule. Luckily, the vast majority of people who responded then (and now) seem to have some flexibility. I want to point out that one of my decisions was to charge considerably less than a professional landscaper would. I am not a professional and wanted to appear as the more competitive choice. I charged $10 and hour and only had basic hand tools. These both worked to my advantage! Most everyone who hired me already had someone to do the mowing and weedwhacking, and so I was able to find my niche (thought I should use an internet marketing term here!) My niche turned out to be...weeding! I can imagine that this might seem unappealing to a lot of people, but I found it really was not so bad.
Many of my clients had several large flowerbeds on their properties, and the lawn care people didn't touch them. My clients had lots of flowers that needed caring for and lots of weeds to be pulled. They also had challenges of their own. Many had health conditions that prohibited them from going out and doing the work that they once did. These people loved their gardens, and were sad at them being neglected. They were happy to see me come in and offer to help. Being dependable, trustworthy, inexpensive, and a good listener has ensured that I have been able to retain several great clients.
Another positive outcome of this type of work is in the connections that you make. I have made many business connections, and have been referred to clients because of my good work and reputation. Connections also happen on a personal level. I have to say that I have met many interesting, kind, and generous people. I have been given snacks and water, taken out to have pizza, been paid for what basically amounted to a few hours of talking, and have been paid significantly more than I should have. I have taken my children on a number of occasions as well. I did this to begin to teach the value of work and to give them the opportunity to really earn some money. I split the pay half and half with them, and my son Steven made a fairly large purchase (for a 9 year old), and is still very proud that he was able to do that.
I live on the north coast of California, so I don't have to contend with snow, and am able to do this work year round. Those of you living in other climates know the potential challenges of doing this work on a regular basis. It isn't possible everywhere (and frankly, it isn't always appealing). Doing physical labor, getting dirty and sweaty, and making a modest amount of money isn't for everyone. Here are some of the potential challenges you might face when getting down and dirty in other people's (flower) beds:
- weather: This is a big consideration. If it is pouring rain, incredibly hot and humid, or snowing, chances are you won't be doing much work. I have worked for hours in rain and mud, but it requires a lot of humility (and a desperate need for cash!) I'm lucky because I live in a place that never gets much above 65 F.
- sun: I am putting this in a separate category, because over exposure to the sun is something that has to be taken seriously. Even here in foggy Humboldt County, we have to be aware of the sun. In fact, this area is known as a skin cancer "hot spot." We all have to protect ourselves from the sun. Consider wearing a hat that covers your neck and head and please use sunblock.
- dogs: I have only encountered nice dogs so far, but one should be prepared in expecting a potential meeting with a guard dog.
- not having enough water or food: Don't be afraid to take breaks and bring adequate water and food with you. Hydration is absolutely necessary, and doing this kind of work can make you hungrier than you might imagine!
- Things that sting: Recently, I disturbed a yellowjacket nest and suffered multiple stings on my arms and face. Take this very seriously if you are at all allergic. I was in a lot of pain and one eye was swollen shut, but these are small concerns compared to what might happen to the severely allergic person.
Hiring yourself out to do yard work is not an approach for everyone, but it can be a source of semi-regular income if you are committed enough. Advertise through Craigslist-don't bother with newspapers or bulletin boards. Once people know that you do quality work, they are likely to refer you to other people who might benefit from your services. Be on time, work hard, be trustworthy and always say "thank you" when the money is exchanged. These tips will ensure that you go far if you decide to accept the challenge of getting down and dirty in other people's (flower) beds! Happy earning!