Full Time Advice

Hello, I'm new to this forum, and appreciate any help and advice.

I recently lost my (normal) job, and turned to Mystery Shopping for income. I have been mystery shopping part time for nearly 4 years now for a large range of companies, and currently am signed up with around 20 different companies to see the most jobs. I am not MSPA certified, but I am considering it. I really enjoy the large variety of work that i get, and I especially enjoy the benefits (free date nights, set my own hours, etc.) I live in San Diego and have a car, so there is a vast amount of jobs available to me.

I'm wondering if anyone here has experience mystery shopping full time. I have written a budget and estimated that if I can make somewhere around $35-50 per day, I will be able to live comfortably. From the job boards and my experience, this seems very doable by stacking multiple jobs in a day and maximizing time efficiency. But putting this into practice has been very difficult. I've been having trouble with scheduling and keeping track of all my jobs. I've found that the jobs come in waves: I will experience a drought, during which I have 0 jobs in a day, so I spend my time applying for jobs and responding to emails. Then I get approved for a flood of jobs from many different companies and it's very difficult to keep track of and schedule them all. My thought is that I can minimize this by doing a little bit of scheduling and a little bit of work each day. I need to limit the number of applications I submit to only as much as I can physically handle in a day, but also leave room so that despite all the jobs I'm not assigned, I will still meet my income goals. Perhaps I need to scale it back and work for only a few companies at a time.

Does anyone have experience or advice for this? How do you keep on top of it all? What systems do you use for budgeting and scheduling?

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First, I suggest that you goal will be easily made if you sign up with an addition 80-100 MSCs.

There will be far, far more options for profitable "one day routes" that way. Second, look for reimbursements on things that you other wise would have to pay full price for: oil changes (I have not paid for one since 2005), hair cuts, groceries, auto fuels and maintenance like tire rotations. Even at "reimbursement only" those are money makers from the standpoint of your budget.

$50 a day is no big deal and many less-than-full-time shoppers do that routinely.

Others will chime in with more alluring methods, but these are FUNDAMENTAL. Build on top of them, but do not miss them!

Good luck.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
Welcome to the forum. Wales has given you some sound advice. I think you should sign up with more companies, definitely don't scale it back. Just because MSCs have jobs in your area doesn't mean you have to take them all. Take only what works best for you. Also consider that MSCs change clients fairly often and if one client switches to a different MSC, you will have no idea which one they switched to if you aren't signed up with them.

I also want to add that MSPA certification isn't necessary. I am MSPA gold certified since 2003, but that was back when they had gold workshops to obtain certifications. Nowadays they have the certifications online and they aren't nearly as valuable, IMO. That and it appears that many MSCs have web application difficulties with accepting the MSPA codes on their site, so what's the point of getting certified if you can't enter you code and get recognition from the MSCs? There are many, many successful shoppers who have 0 certifications. Attend seminars with both the IMSC and MSPA, by all means, but IMO getting certified just doesn't mean that much anymore.

I would love to know how you can live comfortably in SoCal on $50 a day!!!! Seriously, I believe you can make more like $100 a day quite easily without working full-time hours. That being said, you must factor in your taxes and other expenses...I don't think $50 a day is going to do it for you in the long run.
I keep a spreadsheet that lists all the shops that I have scheduled, plus the ones that I have requested or applied for. I update it as soon as I have accepted a new shop, so I can always see what I have scheduled and when. I also put other important information in there, such as days I'll be out of town or appointments, so I don't forget that I already have something going on at such and such a time and accidently schedule a shop for when I'm supposed to be at the dentist!

The spreadsheet lists each day, which MSC, shop, job ID number, address, fee, bonus (if any), max reimbursement, time frame for shop, and any special notes (like drive-thru, phone shop, must have female guest, do alone, Is the date firm or is there a range of dates for this shop, etc). After the shop, I put in how much I actually spent, mileage for the day (total miles, beginning mileage and ending mileage), and any other expenses related to the shop (parking, tolls, hotels if overnight, etc). When I get paid, I put the date I got paid for each shop and note if the amount was incorrect.

The nice thing about keeping up with the spreadsheet on a daily basis is that it keeps you organized and aware of what shops you have scheduled, and the mileage and payment information is all in one spot when it comes time to do your taxes. Some MSCs give 1099s WITH the reimbursement amount included (which you'll need to take back out as an expense on your taxes) and some don't, so you'll need an easy way to tell. And the search function is awesome! I can go back and see how much I got paid for a certain shop two or three months (or years!) ago and factor that information in when I "make an offer."

I've been shopping for 10 years and my spreadsheet is tweaked a bit almost every year. The top two lines of the spreadsheet have my vehicle mileage on January 1 (you'll need to know for tax purposes); I add the ending mileage on December 31. I just added the "bonus" column a couple years ago because I was curious as to how much "extra" money I was making over the entry level point. I keep thinking about adding a column so I can tell how the job was offered/accepted (just because I would like to know!) - did I accept it via website, text, a phone call, or did I "make an offer?" I'm also thinking of adding "date applied" and "accepted" columns, but I don't "need" that info, I just sometimes wonder how far out I schedule certain jobs or when the jobs are offered to me from month to month.
Echoing the above comments: You should be signed up with over 100 companies if you are going to do this full time.... $50 each day should be easy once you are. I work full time and mystery shop and average better than $50/day.

Other:

If you are serious about this, make sure that you are willing to drive a little. Some of the best days shopping are on the open road, 100 miles from home seeking out locations in the sticks. Often these jobs have hefty bonuses at the end of the month.

Video Shopping: The most profit in this business comes through video work. Once you have enough saved to purchase the equipment, it is worth the investment. However, I would suggest doing a shop for a company that will loan you the equipment first - just to make sure it is for you.

Routes: Unless it pays well or is an errand you have to run anyhow, don't leave home for one little job. Group 3 4, 5 or 30 shops in an area and make a day of it. Be efficient.

Hard work builds character and homework is good for your soul.
Didos on the other comments. You should easily be able to make more than $50 a day. Since you live in a large city, if you get organized, you could make $100 a day. I've been mystery shopping part-time, which is all that I am capable of, since 2004. Now that I have experience I know which companies pay the best, and I usually don't leave the house unless I have a route that pays at least $75. Many times, especially at the end of the month, when bonuses get big, I can make $150 to $200 in one day, and I don't live near any big cities. As others have said, if you work at mystery shopping as a business, you can make pretty good money. As far as companies, this forum has a list, and try a site called "Jobslinger." They show jobs for a lot of different companies. I've just recently found a site called "GigSpot" which is also a job board for several companies.
Making the equivalent of $50 per day and making $50 a day every day Monday through Friday are two different things. The former will be relatively easy while the latter is just a pipe dreamsmiling smiley It makes more sense to have longer shopping days followed by days at home for reports and and the unpaid aspects of your business.

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
"I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps themselves up in the Constitution over someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag." -Molly Ivins
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
Actually, Lisa is correct and those of us who sated $50 a day almost certainly all meant what she said. I love to run out and do $150-$200 of shops in one day; much more efficient. Another BIG reason to learn to run profitable day routes.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
I still do some stuff old school style. You know, pen, paper and a desk calendar. First, figure out what shops you can organize for a certain date. I usually write down the shops I applied for on a sheet of paper. Many MSC do not provide a confirmation that you were assigned the shop so you have to follow up on your own. Sign up for those and when you receive a confirmation for the shops you applied for, jot them down on your desk calendar. I usually list the MSC, what city they're in, type of shop and shop fee. Also factor in the time you'll need to complete the reports. I've done reports up to the early AM hours like 4 AM. Everybody has their own organizing system so find what works for you and good luck.
Thank you! I was thinking I should just go down the list and apply for all of the Sassie shops since it's so easy to apply, then research more shops. Usually when I sit down to apply for jobs, I have a list of links to companies, and I keep the ones I work for most frequently at the top of the list so I look through their jobs first.
Thank you. The budget is like a bare minimum. I combine this with extreme couponing and constant deal hunting to make it work. My boyfriend also has an independent contracting job which pays similarly, so we have a combined income. The only major problem is we can't prove our income when applying for apartments, loans, etc and my credit is terrible.

Thanks for the encouragement! I do believe I could earn up to $100 per day, which would truly improve my life and situation. That is a lot more money than I can earn at any entry level jobs I can find, and the work is so much more enjoyable.
You could also consider merchandising jobs. It's interesting and pays better than entry level jobs, though I must say I do make more money as a shopper. I fill in the gaps with merchandising.
Thank you! I've tried the spreadsheet, but I think my problem is that I haven't been entering the shops I applied for or keeping the shops after they're finished. Hopefully with some searching, I can look at my shop logs and enter in the ones I've completed this year. I love the idea of keeping track of mileage and such, as some jobs end up being not worth the time and effort. I also like to keep track of when I "clocked in and out" so I can calculate my hourly wage (I love seeing $30/hour for a bar shop at which I received free food and drinks! How exhilarating for someone with no college degree!)

I'll start using my spreadsheet for EVERY job and keeping all the data in one spot. Spreadsheets are so much fun anyways.
Others have already mentioned it. Since you're shooting for $35-50 per day, consider bundling shops in areas where you can try to reach $200-300 per day, then spend the following day or so with a shop here and there, but to focus on the reports for those shop-heavy days ('$200-300 days'). That way, the $200-300 you make from a day's worth of shopping, can be help you be efficient in not being out 'in the field' so much. Doing it this way's tough though when you have hours upon hours of reports to grind through, but I still find it more efficient then spreading the shops out over multiple days.

Shopping the Greater Denver Area, Colorado Springs and in-between in Colorado. 28 year old male and willing to travel! Badged for Denver International Airport.
I also wanted to mention that as a merchandiser, I am a PT employee but generally get to pick my own hours, which is pretty great, so I can balance mystery shopping and merchandising out quite well. I like that they (the merchandising company) take out taxes and when it's tax time, I am not shell-shocked as much by the amount of income I made shopping and don't have to worry about forking out as much money to the IRS. I still have to pay and I am definitely not getting any refunds, but it's a lot less to worry about all at once.
As others have mentioned, clients change MSCs and their programs altogether. There are tons of shops you’ll never see - some you’ll never qualify for just because of demographics like requirement being a male 18-24. When you find you get really good at a handul of shops, you’ll maximize your time and be able to squeeze in a lot more! You should easily be hitting $100/day.
You're looking at $12,000 a year in San Diego. I'd love to know where? San Ysidro?

You could get a full-time job at Wal-mart for $12 an hour and make $25,000 a year.

I take it you have no health insurance? How do you afford car insurance and registration on $12,000 a year?

None of this makes any sense to me.
Hi, I'm also in San Diego, but only a part time MSer and doing it less and less. If you have any access to either airports behind security or military bases, you can get decent fees. Might even be worth getting a part time job there. My sister, who lives in another city, does a whole bunch of airport shops in one day, and the MSC arranges for her to be brought behind security.
Do you know of any companies currently offering to loan out video equipment? I've definitely thought about doing video shops before, since they usually pay very well.
Ellis will loan equipment to do their shops. The report is very long but it is a good way to hone your skills, learn both apartment procedures and the equipment, before investing $300 plus. Most other video shopw want shopper with wn equipment.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
I love the idea of doing big routes with rest/report days! However, most of the jobs I've seen require the report to be done within 24 hours. Are there ways around that?
Once you have established yourself as reliable with a particular MSC tell them that you will be traveling late or are on a route and ask for a delayed deadline.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
There is a merchandising section on this forum you should check out. I am an employee with Advantage Solutions. When I do grocery store resets for suppliers, they generally have a mix of different reps from different companies, so I work with people from Acosta and other merchandising companies. The people from Acosta like the company quite well. You should check out the merchandising threads and do some research. I also do some IC work for SPAR. I have been with Advantage for about 7 years now and because of the flexibility they allow me, I will stay with them.
Talking about a recent experience which is so "Mystery Shoppingish". I did an Investment job long ad tedious for
$30.00 a week ago....I now am doing a Bank job home improvement for 50.00+50.00 bonus, same work. Be careful and you will learn what company works for you...same job, 70.00 difference, you will learn what companies pay best for work done. I stay away (after 12 yrs) from the lowballer's, unless their in my town and I'm there anyway.

Create a life that feels good on the inside, not one that just looks good on the outside.....
Dr. Judith Wright
All great advice I see. I'll have to go back and learn some more myself. I have been doing since 2005. I use Quicken to keep track.
I use Google Calendar for the email (PayPal) I use. That is extremely helpful for me, as every morning I will have an email showing my schedule for the day. Every day I get an email to remind me of a shop.
I just have to discipline myself better to enter the calendar.

Also, I am trying to do this: every morning, I check to see what might be available on the route or near where I will be. It doesn't work for shops you have to wait for assignments, but self-assign it is great.
I just left San Diego,CA area so hopefully you are enjoying some of "my" former shops (LOL!) I currently live in Alabama and was surprised that after a few months I am enjoying some success scheduling several shops a week with a handful of MS companies I have worked for over the years. I keep a spreadsheet (as others have suggested) but only note those shops that have been assigned, not the ones I applied for. Also, I try to do more than one a day when possible and make it a route where they are grouped geographically close one another. To further keep organized, I create sub-folders in my email and file my assignment materials by date. That way, as I complete assignments I delete the folders, and just have upcoming assignments showing. Also, placing shops in your calendar on your cell phone shows when you are working, and when you are not so you can sign up for shops on the fly if you get pinged by a scheduler to do a last minute shop. Also, don't be shy. Ask for a bonus if you get a last minute request. Some companies won't bonus, but most good ones will. I had signed up for over 70 companies at one point, but now have it narrowed down to 10 that keep me busy in my new hometown. Like you, I would like to transition to full-time shopping. Good luck!
@Kyrat4216 wrote:

Do you know of any companies currently offering to loan out video equipment? I've definitely thought about doing video shops before, since they usually pay very well.

I am actually considering selling my PV-500, as I am currently doing more merchandising than MSing.

That said, I was a FT MSer for many years. Try to learn when shops are reaching the end of their scheduling period (end of the month/quarter/year, etc.). This maxes bonuses. Make friends with your schedulers and don't be afraid to ask for routes of shops and bonuses. I often shop many of the same shop, with "filler" shops that can be instantly self-assigned. You can get a routine and better judge your timing.

For organization I put all accepted shops on my phone calendar immediately. I list applied/accepted shops on a spreadsheet. I use MileIQ to track milage, and use a route planner app to make large routes more efficient.

Good luck! The economy slump of 10 years ago cost my husband and I our jobs. We both went FT shopping and have never looked back.
Earn on your grocery shopping, etc. with Ibotta--[ibotta.com] and get help with improving your credit with Credit Karma. If you can stand the abuse, do car negotiations for SeeLevel at $75 a car, up to 40 cars per year (4 per month, 10 months--no January or July). Be sure you're working for athPower, Maritz, and Bare International as they are good reliable sources of shops. SeeLevel has other shops, too, and their schedulers are dolls!
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