Your tween may be too young to hold down a real job, but there are several tried and true ways they can make money.
Several years ago, 9-year-old Ella Cooke wanted to buy a video game, but she had no money and was too young to work. So the Laurel resident wound up choosing a classic way to earn cash. She set up a lemonade stand.
“I was looking up quick ways to get money. I saw that lemonade stands are really cheap,” says Ella, now 13. “We just needed lemons. We had sugar and a pitcher.”
If your tween is looking for a way to make money this summer, there is no need to sift through countless articles and lists looking for interesting ideas likely to pay off.
As with any business, the best ideas already have a built-in market. Lawns need to be mowed, dogs need to be walked and parents often need an extra hand.
Figuring out lucrative jobs for youngsters is one thing. Knowing what it takes is another. If you are looking to start a tween business, read on for expert advice from kids who have tried the jobs, adults looking back to when they were younger and grown-ups who still work in the field.
Walking dogs is “the perfect job” for a kid looking to make some extra money, according to Dave Comiskey, cofounder of Barkly Pets — a smartphone app that connects dog owners with dog walkers.
“You’re spending time outdoors, and you’re spending time with dogs,” says Comiskey, who lives in Washington, D.C.
While you have to be 18 or older to work for Barkly and similar companies, many of those who apply to work for Comiskey’s company walked dogs when they were younger.
Having a dog business isn’t just about taking a dog out to do its business. Dogs tend to spend the day cooped up indoors and alone, so they enjoy walkers who take them outside, give them exercise, and offer a bit of companionship, Comiskey says. A good walker should know and follow the dog’s schedule and, of course, make sure to keep the water bowl full. Some dogs also need to be fed or given medication.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Comiskey says. “You’re entering people’s homes and caring for the most precious thing inside.”
What’s needed: Just pet waste bags, if the owner doesn’t provide them.
Possible pay: Depends on the competition, but starting pay could be as much as $10-$15 per half-hour walk, according to Comiskey.
How to get business: Word of mouth from happy customers spreads, and walkers can post on social media or hang fliers, Comiskey says. Any advertising should depend on a child’s age and a parent’s comfort level.
Help harried parents
Jessica Hayes, a nanny from Severn, started working as a mother’s helper at age 10.
The job is similar to that of a babysitter, but a parent is at home, so there is no minimum age. A mother’s helper tends to the kids or helps with other tasks around the home, giving the parents time to themselves.
“I dressed the children, prepared meals, gave them bottles and did bathing, hygiene and potty training,” Hayes says. “I was also expected to be the playmate. I couldn’t just watch them play from the sidelines.”
Mother’s helpers must have enough energy — and patience — to keep up with the little ones. But, the job is more than being an older friend to the child, according to Hayes.
“There must always be a balance between play and reinforcing good behavior,” she says.
What’s needed: Potential mother’s helpers may want to bolster their qualifications by taking first aid and CPR training. Babysitting courses are also offered around the region, including “Super Sitter” training at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
Possible pay: Tweens start on the low end of the pay scale for mother’s helpers. While the exact rate depends on the parent, many cite their rates at or around $5 an hour.
How to get business: Ask neighbors and family friends if they need help. Parents of potential mother’s helpers may want to limit options to those they know and trust.
Matt Farragut was 9 years old when he first helped his older brother water and mow lawns in Columbia. He has continued in the lawn care business for close to 25 years. Farragut recommends young, aspiring lawn mowers partner with someone older and more experienced when starting out. This way they will learn how to do the job correctly and safely.
Kids will need to be strong enough to push and direct the mower, though modern devices make this much easier. Some customers, however, may want more than just mowing. Pros may also clear the yard of debris, use a weed whacker to trim the edges, and use a blower to remove clippings and bags to take them away.
Though Farragut was younger when he started, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children be at least 12 years old before using a walk-behind mower. Kids should be at least 16 to use riding mowers, the AAP says. A comprehensive list of safety recommendations can be found at HealthyChildren.org.
Once a child has been taught how to mow safely, the job can be a low-cost, high-return business.
“I looked into what other people were charging and went lower than that,” Farragut says. “I didn’t have a lot of overhead — just the equipment and gas.”
What’s needed: A lawn mower and gas. Most kids can begin with their family’s mower. They should plan to use their earnings to pay for gas, but walk-behind mowers don’t require much.
Possible pay: It’s wise to price lower than your competition, especially since kids will likely not match the quality of professional mowers. Services advertised on the Annapolis Craigslist begin at $25-$30 for a small yard and $40-$65 for larger yards.
How to get business: Farragut says that word of mouth helped him get mowing jobs around the neighborhood, and he also put fliers on people’s doors. In the winter, lawn mowers can consider shoveling snow for their lawn clients or to drum up new lawn business. Going door-to-door after a storm is the best way for kids to get work, according to Chad Meushaw of Columbia, who’s been clearing sidewalks and driveways for nearly three decades.
“Don’t be discouraged if you hear ‘no’ from 10 homes in a row, because maybe house 11, 12 and 13 will want help,” Meushaw says. “It’s hard work, but it’s pretty good money.”
A lemonade stand is a fun way to earn a few dollars.
When Ella Cooke opened her first stand, she called her friends to come help, figuring more kids meant more attention (and more fun).
They made signs to spread the word and called out to passing cars.
“They were working the cute factor pretty well,” says Julie Cooke, Ella’s mother.
Ella also had her own special recipe — adding a pinch of salt to the mix to bring out the lemonade flavor.
That first year, they came out even after accounting for the cost of lemons and second pitcher. The following year, Ella and her friends made a bit more, finding a sweet spot at 75 cents a cup, with some buyers giving a dollar and telling them to keep the change.
Many successful stands these days are charity fundraisers, inspiring more people to come out and pay more. For those seeking to make money for themselves, the low cost of a cup of lemonade means it can take far more customers to make money than through other jobs such as dog walking.
“There might be better ways to earn money,” Ella says. “But I had lots of fun with my friends.”
What’s needed: Depends on your recipe, but the basics are sugar, water, lemons, ice, pitchers and cups. You’ll also need a table and chairs, plus any decorations to make your stand, well, stand out.
Possible pay: Depends on your price and the number of customers you have, minus how much you spent on supplies — and, if you follow Ella’s lead, divided by the number of kids involved.
How to get business: A well-placed or well-designed lemonade stand may draw the attention of people driving by. Putting signs up at well-trafficked intersections also helps. Parents can post on social media or neighborhood e-mail groups to pull in more customers.
By David Greisman