Although it's often thought of as the typical teenage summer job, performing yard work can be a quick way to earn cash for individuals of all ages. Starting a yard work service requires little in the way of overhead, and a few regular customers can create a steady work schedule, since typical yard work -- such as lawn mowing and weeding -- requires regular, ongoing maintenance. Like any business, however, there are rules and regulations to consider. Even though you are working a cash job, IRS regulations still apply, and likewise, so do state and federal labor laws.
Decide on the types of service you will provide. Traditional yard work involves lawn mowing, weeding, leaf raking and trash collection, but you might also expand to planting, feature installation, tree trimming, paving and other more specialized services. Set pricing for each service by reviewing your competitor costs and the expenses you will need to cover -- such as rental of specialist equipment.
Build your customer base. Advertise your services by creating and posting flyers in the area you hope to work in, canvassing door-to-door and networking with your family, friends and neighbors to identify potential customers. Offer incentives for new customer referral -- for example, one free lawn mowing session for every new referral -- and discounted pricing for customers who sign long-term contracts.
Purchase the necessary equipment to start your lawn business. You may be able to raise capital to purchase equipment by borrowing the homeowner's lawn mower and tools initially, but to operate a professional yard work business, you will ultimately need your own basic equipment, a vehicle to transport it from site to site and a place to store the equipment while you are not working.
Study the techniques of proper lawn care, plant maintenance and any other specialized services you will be performing. Certain activities -- such as tree trimming, for example -- can require licensing or certification, so check your local licensing agency to determine the requirements you need to meet.
Educate yourself on the IRS requirements for cash work. The IRS considers yard work for cash a typical part of the "underground economy" -- self-employment occupations in which people frequently under-report earnings, fail to pay appropriate taxes or flaunt licensing requirements -- and violations for failing to adhere to IRS standards and taxation requirements are significant. The IRS routinely audits underground workers, so you must make sure your taxes are in order by tracking your income and expenses to determine your annual net profit or loss. If your net profit exceeds $400 per year, you are required to file a tax return. You will be responsible for both income tax and self-employment tax, and you may also be required to pay quarterly estimated tax payments. Learn more about your tax requirements with the free interactive online class offered by the IRS for small business owners (see Resources).
The market for yard work can be variable, depending on the seasons. Plan for a slowdown in the winter months and budget accordingly.
Maximize your profit by scheduling work around the same time slots and locations. This will reduce the amount of gas you spend driving to each customer and reduce wasted time between jobs.
Determine if you need to put money aside to pay for taxes at the end of the year. Penalties can be severe, so you may want to seek the advice of an experienced professional accountant.
For more than a decade, Tia Benjamin has been writing organizational policies, procedures and management training programs. A C-level executive, she has more than 15 years experience in human resources and management. Benjamin obtained a Bachelor of Science in social psychology from the University of Kent, England, as well as a Master of Business Administration from San Diego State University.