If you read my introductory post about this series over a week ago, you probably remember that I said the first article would be on content writing and sponsored blog posts. Well, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to start from the bottom up – meaning that I want to use the series to relay my personal work-from-home experiences in the order that they happened. Therefore, instead of content writing and sponsored posts, the first opportunity I will explore is Mystery Shopping. I know this type of work may not suit everybody, but one of my main goals here at Biz Mommy is to share the various resources and tools that have helped me earn money while working from home. As I outline the steps that I took on my journey, my hope is that each of you will find something that inspires you to take action and follow your work-from-home dreams as well.
And don’t worry…I promise I will get to content writing and sponsored blog posts by the end of the series!
Since I received such enthusiastic responses to the introductory post, I’ve also chosen to use this series as a launching pad for a membership section of Biz Mommy, an idea I’ve had on the back-burner for the past year. The road to my current work-at-home life has been long and varied so the series will probably run for at least 10 to 12 weeks. I want to make sure that I get to share all of the important details that will help you find the best on and off-line opportunities to suit your personal lifestyles. I hope you enjoy the ride and most of all that you find the work-at-home journey as rewarding as I have.
Making Money with Mystery Shopping
Whether it’s because of financial challenges, lack of time or a host of other reasons, some people are just not ready to start their own small business. Personally, I’ve always been entrepreneurial, but as a stay at home mom to 2 toddlers, I found it extremely difficult in the beginning to dedicate time to fleshing out ideas for a home business.
For those of you in that same position, there are still lots of ways to stay home and earn money. One of those ways is by doing Mystery Shopping work. Mystery Shopping is a fun part-time job that is flexible enough to work around your day job if necessary. People who live in large cities, like Los Angeles or New York, have more Mystery Shopping companies to choose from, so there is lots more work available. In those cities, it is quite possible to earn up to $1000 or more per month. If you live in a smaller city, your earnings will probably be significantly less, unless you are willing and have the capacity to travel regularly to a bigger city.
Once you begin to look for Mystery Shopping work, be careful not to get taken in by the many scams out there that will take your money and give you information which you could have gotten for free with a little internet research. Even worse, some companies will take your money and give you out-dated information or tell you things that aren’t even close to being accurate. Rest assured, there are many Mystery Shopping companies that will pay you on a regular basis for ongoing work as a Secret Shopper but you do NOT have to pay a dime to get assigned to shops. Take a look at the Mystery Shopping Provider’s Association for helpful tips, resources and a list of legitimate Mystery Shopping companies.
There is a lot of information to sift through, so, if you’re like me and prefer more of an orderly blueprint for how to get started, the following step-by-step instructions will help you become a paid Mystery Shopper. You will learn how to find legitimate mystery shopping companies, how to easily get assigned to jobs and how to consistently make hundreds of dollars per month. There is definitely a big up-front time commitment when you start out and have to sign up with lots of companies in order to find steady work, but once you start receiving daily opportunities and regular checks in the mail, you’ll see that it’s certainly time well spent.
Step 1 – Be Realistic
Decide how many hours you are going to devote each day to your Mystery Shopper work. It is great, extremely flexible and often fun work to do but you MUST recognize that it is a JOB. In order to really make money at it, you must do it consistently. When I first started mystery shopping, people I knew were so excited for me to tell them how they could do it as well. Then once I gave them all of the information and they realized it wasn’t leisurely days spent getting free massages to review the latest spa treatments or glamorous shopping sprees at high-end stores, they tended to lose interest. The bottom line is that in order to make money, you’ll need to put in the work and the more hours you work, of course, the more money you’ll make.
Step 2 – Get Registered
Sign up with as many Mystery Shopping providers as possible; the more you sign up with, the more opportunities you’ll have for getting assigned to shops. There are literally hundreds of legitimate companies that regularly hire people to secret shop. A couple of good places to start are Volition and The Mystery Shopping Providers Association. At either site you will find helpful information on how to get started as well as lists of reputable mystery shopping companies.
Step 3 – Set Your Work Hours
Once you decide how many hours you want to work each day, separate the hours into:
- Signing up for shops
- Reviewing the shop paperwork
- Performing the shops and
- Submitting the shop reports. Keep in mind that for each shop you complete, you can spend anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes filling out the shop report.
And remember, you MUST set a consistent schedule for signing up for shops so that you can be sure you’ll have regular work – and paychecks!
Step 5 – Set Up Your “Shopping” Email
Create a separate email account that is used just for mystery shopping. Once you begin signing up for the various shopping companies you will start getting TONS of emails regarding shop opportunities on a daily basis. When I was actively shopping, if I didn’t check my email for 2 or 3 days, I’d often have up to 200 emails waiting in my inbox. If you’d like to have a personalized email that’s specific to mystery shopping, check out Mystery Shopping Solutions, a company that offers a one-stop sign-up for many Mystery Shopping companies. Personalized cards are good to have for networking meetings and Shopper conventions where you could connect with companies looking to hire new shoppers and schedulers. What’s great about Mystery Shopping Solutions is that when you sign up with them, the information you fill out on their form is made available to their whole database of shopping companies and you’ll be emailed if your demographics match any of their shopping job opportunities.
Step 6 – Search Job Boards
Just like Mystery Shopping Solutions, sites such as Jobslinger and Shadow Shopper are not actually mystery shopping companies, but job boards that list opportunities from a variety of companies. This, of course, keeps you from having to hop around to so many sites each day, but the downside is that the listings are not always as real-time as the actual company site listings. It can’t hurt to check out the job boards and see if they work for you, but just so you know, although Jobslinger is free to sign up and browse for jobs, Shadow Shopper is not. Personally, I’ve used both sites and have found some good assignments that weren’t listed anywhere else. That being said, I was able to find enough work elsewhere that if I had it to do over, I’d skip paying the yearly fee at Shadow Shopper and apply directly to the Mystery Shopping companies.
Step 7 – Assign Yourself to Jobs
Make a bookmark folder on your computer for ‘self-assign’ mystery shopping companies. This is important because if you sign up with hundreds of companies (which you should), it can get hard to keep track of which job boards allow you to assign yourself to jobs. And of course these are the boards you want to browse first when looking for work because you don’t have to wait to find out whether you’ve gotten an assignment or not. I found it helpful to have a daily process for finding regular work which allowed me to have more control over my work day and how much money I was earning each week. Two or three times a week, I would set aside a couple of hours to go through the following four steps:
Step 8 – Organize Your Workspace
Being very organized as a shopper will make your life a lot easier and allow you more time to focus on money-making activities. Make files for your daily shop logs, shop paperwork and pay stubs. As a Mystery Shopper, you are an independent contractor and therefore, essentially in business for yourself. You need to keep careful track of your earnings for tax purposes as well as a record of your shops in case the companies you work for ever have any questions about a job that you did.
Some Tools of the Trade
Here are some things you need to have before you get started – some which are necessary in order to perform a mystery shopping job correctly and some that will simply make your secret shop experience easier and save you lots of time:
- Computer with a high-speed Internet connection
- Email address (separate from your main email)
- PayPal account
- Cell Phone
- RoboForm (or other online form-filler)
- Reliable transportation
- A digital camera
- A daily job sheet
- An income and expenses worksheet
Some Things to Keep in Mind
Just like at any other job, being aware of and following some basic rules can be the difference between success and failure:
- Always keep track of your Shop deadlines and be sure to submit your reports on time!
- Be friendly with the schedulers and show them that you are reliable. This will help to get you more work and sometimes even higher pay.
- Skip the websites that ask you to pay a fee to get a list of mystery shopping providers. You should NEVER pay anyone to get mystery shopping work!
Another very important thing to be aware of when you start working is that most Mystery Shopping companies will take anywhere from 30 to 60 days to process payment for your shops. Frustrating, yes, but this is the industry standard. Some companies will pay within a couple of weeks but the average is about 30 days. That being said, once you’ve built up to a regular steady schedule of weekly shops, you will have regular weekly checks or Paypal deposits coming in. But it’s important to know up front that you will spend the first month without seeing any money. Be patient, though, because as long as you’ve signed up with the legitimate companies listed at Volition.com or the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (www.mysteryshop.org), you shouldn’t have any problem with getting paid on time.
Get to Work!
So, there you have it. Mystery Shopping can be a fun, extremely flexible way to add extra money to your family’s budget or an easy way to save for a special purchase. The key is to remember to treat it like a real job and to be consistent with all of the steps above. It is not a way to “get rich quick” or “make thousands of dollars a day” as the scam ads will tell you. However, if you put in the time and do the work, you WILL make money. The amount of money you can make depends solely on how many hours you have to devote to shopping each day, where you live and how many companies you sign up with.
I hope this article helps shed some light on the “Mystery” of Secret Shopping and keeps people from falling for the far too prevalent scams out there. Just take your time, do some research – then go out there and make some money!