Monday, October 6, 2008

Mystery Shopping 102: Completing the Shop, Keeping Track, Getting Paid, and Paperwork

See previous:

Mystery Shopping: A Field Guide
Mystery Shopping 102: What You Need to Get Started
Mystery Shopping 102: How to Find Shops

Doing the shop
Read the instructions carefully before signing up for a shop, and again before completing it. Print out any paperwork you might need before you begin (some shops require that you not take notes on the premises, some require that you print out an invoice before entering your report with no way to print it afterward). I usually make notes of particulars on a post it note or in the memo feature of my phone, rather than printing out paperwork. For restaurant shops that require timing, I will note all the things I'm supposed to time for in the memo section of my phone, and then enter the time while doing the shop. It just looks like I'm rude and texting someone or checking email at the dinner table rather than giving me away as a shopper.

Some shops require special equipment, like scales and thermometers or digital stopwatches. (The scale and thermometers were provided by the shopping company, and I paid a deposit for them. The deposit will be returned when I send back the equipement.) I have a digital stopwatch program on my phone, and since I don't have a car, I don't do many shops that require special equipment.
Do the shop honestly, objectively, in the parameters required, without giving yourself away. Upload your report, including scanning/photographing or faxing receipts, as soon as possible.
Keeping track of shops and payments
I set up a spreadsheet to keep track of all my shops for scheduling, payment, and taxation purposes. As you can see, I'm pretty detailed. I keep a tab like this for every company I shop for. Blue means the shop is totally finished and I've been paid. Purple means I've completed the shop and am waiting to be paid (note the estimated payment dates in the paid date column). Yellow means the shop is upcoming.
The columns are mostly self-explanatory, but I'll take a second to explain the fee/reimbursement/not reimbursed columns. The fee column is whatever I'm going to be paid just for doing the shop. This is always taxable income. In many cases, restaurant shops do not actually pay, but simply reimburse up to a set limit. That's what the reimbursement column shows. The Not Reimbursed column shows expenses I had above and beyond what the reimbursement covered. This is sometimes, but not necessarily, a tax-deductible expense. I will cover that more in the next installment of Mystery Shopping 102.

This spreadsheet gives me a lot of valuable information. At a glance, I can see what shops I have coming up and what I'm waiting to be paid for. I also have a summary page in the spreadsheet that shows what I have grossed and netted from each company so I know whether to expect tax forms from them, and also so I just know how much I've made in the year.

Getting Paid

As I said before, most companies pay via PayPal. The check number field is leftover from when I actually used to get physical checks mailed to me from every company. I keep it there because a few companies still do pay that way. I have a separate checking account for mystery shopping money. I deposit those checks into that account, and also transfer money from Paypal to that account to both pay for shops as they come up and to pay off my credit card if any shops were put on a credit card for some reason. I transfer some money from Paypal (about 1/3) into my savings account in anticipation of paying taxes. And I pay myself some money to do what I want with it--right now, it's going towards Lasik surgery, but I've funded budget categories of clothing, eating out, travel, and spa services by mystery shopping as well.

I keep paperwork until I'm paid for a shop, period. That includes copies of receipts and business cards if I have to physically mail them in, fax reports confirming the fax was sent, and anything else relating to proof that I completed a shop within the requirements and deserve to be paid for it, as well as check stubs. After I'm paid, I'll only keep receipts and things I need for tax purposes, and then I keep those things for the standard three years you keep any tax paperwork. I start a file at the beginning of the year and I throw receipts in it all year long for both mystery shopping and dance expenses. I note on the receipt what the expense was for if it's not clear. My digital spreadsheet means that at almost any point, I can figure out how much I'm going to have to pay.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great guide with excellent tips, thanks! :)


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