Overview: Members of Mystery Shop Forum have frequently asked if it is financially feasible to survive solely on mystery shopping income. Volunteers, who were successfully earning $2,000 or more per month, were solicited and Mystery Shopper Magazine is proud to present the fourth in a series of interviews on the topic.
MSM talks with LisaSTL:
MSM: Please give us a brief overview of your background prior to mystery shopping and, if you will, discuss what past work experiences have contributed to your success as a mystery shopper.
LisaSTL: I had a strong background in business, primarily running them for other people. Throughout my life I have had a natural inclination toward organization and found myself frequently reworking existing processes to make them more efficient and cost-effective.
MSM: How did you first learn of mystery shopping and what was the impetus for you to begin? At what point, did you realize it could become a lucrative venture?
LisaSTL: Ten to twelve years ago I read an online article about mystery shopping being a legitimate venture. My goal was to make some play money, while working full time, without having to be stuck with someone else’s schedule. After being automated out of a job in 2007 I revisited MSing as something to fill the time. At the same time I discovered online forums devoted to mystery shopping and was amazed by some of the success stories. Despite being a non-believer, I decided to see if it was possible and was actually surprised by the results.
MSM: Monetarily, can you give us an approximation of what you consider a bad month, a good month and a banner month? Do you count useful reimbursements, such as gasoline, groceries, etc. when computing your earnings?
LisaSTL: I really don’t include reimbursements when considering my income because I rarely take an assignment heavy on the reimbursement side. The types of places shopped are not those I would frequent. I also don’t like to talk about specifics regarding
finances. Suffice it to say anything below $2,000 is unacceptable where $3,000 to $4,000 is enough for me to live a comfortable lifestyle in my region.
MSM: Please describe your average work week, including number and types of shops, amount of time spent away from home and the time required to report the shops.
LisaSTL: There is no such thing as an average work day or an average work week. My goal is still to have the majority of my business happen during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. Right now my schedule tends to revolve around ongoing work. Once locations are chosen for the month, it is time to add some fillers. Most days I leave home around 8:00 am or 8:30 am, return by noon or 1 pm and have reports completed within an hour or two. My time out usually includes whatever personal and/or household errands need to be done that day.
Lately I have been keeping much closer watch of my hours and find them to average maybe 25 per week when I’m not traveling. Road trips are a different story and usually require working a minimum of 8 to 12 hours a day, with no days off.
MSM: It would be difficult to generate significant earnings from mystery shopping without a sound strategy. What is yours and what makes it so effective?
LisaSTL: There have been two strategies. One was increasing my income potential by adding video shopping to my repertoire. The other was to take advantage of any long term, ongoing projects that came my way. At the least, they can be a base to work around, while at best, they can automatically put me into the black each month.
MSM: How stressful is it maintaining this level of income, month after month? What do you do to keep from getting burned out? Most importantly, how do you maintain order and tranquility in your personal and professional life in spite of an uncertain availability of work and a chaotic schedule?
LisaSTL: I have become much more particular about which assignments to take and which to avoid. After spending the first two to three years at this almost 24/7, I reached a point where it became easier. As in any business there is time spent building it up. Now I place a high value on all my time. A personal life is essential to prevent burn out. I don’t subscribe to the attitude it’s necessary to take a low dollar shop because otherwise I’d just be watching TV. Some days it is more valuable to spend a few hours at the pool or reading a book or watching TV instead of chasing a buck. Life is too short. If you are
giving up everything you love it’s time to reevaluate your goals.
MSM: What advice do you have for new mystery shoppers and for experienced mystery shoppers, who want to increase their income?
- Organization and efficiency are a great place to start. While those alone won’t increase income, in a business where time is money, they will help reduce time and
- Know your worth, the real costs of assignments and your market. Don’t compare yourself to other shoppers because their markets are likely to be entirely different
- Be realistic, but don’t ever be afraid to ask for what you need. The worst thing they can say is “no”.
- Remember this a business, your business, and run it like one. Every time you do a company or scheduler “a favor”, which costs you money, you are making a charitable
contribution to a for-profit business. That’s not to say you should never go out of your way or even occasionally do a job, which is a loser. Those things are all part of building
relationships. Some companies are all about building those relationships while others will just think of you as a number, a commodity which can be replaced in a heartbeat. Think about which type you are dealing with before taking that shop two hours out of the way because a scheduler is desperate.
MSM: Thank you for sharing your strategies and for making it clear that treating mystery shopping as a business, in combination with working smart, is intrinsic to financial success in this field.