Paying Your Dues

I was contemplating a $13 bonused fast food shop today and debating about asking for another $5 when it hit me how my standards have changed in the last three years.

When I started out, it was $5 fast food shops and $10 bank and cell phone shops for the most part and I was glad to get them. Anything over $20 was few and far between. Gradually, as I built up my reputation, got MSPA certified, and expanded my MSC list to well over 100, I started seeing more and more “premium” shops and have been able to negotiate higher bonuses, and get more phone calls from schedulers who know I’ll get the job done and don’t mind paying a bonus. One company with $5 fast food shops doesn’t even bother offering me $10 first; they call me with my $15 minimum price sometimes multiple times in the same month. I can’t remember the last time I did a $5 fast food shop. Another company stopped calling me because they had to cap at $15 and I wouldn’t eat those tacos for less than $20.

When I was starting out, and these premium shops weren’t being offered to me and no scheduler had me on their speed dial, I was glad to get awarded a shop at all, regardless of fee. It wasn’t very lucrative in those early days. I was putting in a lot of hours to scrape $300-500 a month. But that $300-500 a month meant a lot to me then and I hung in there. Last month I made over $900 and was out of town on vacation and didn’t even shop that week. (I only shop part time anyway.)

In the last two months I did a $400 multi-shop bank job, a $250 medical video shop, a $70 eyeglass shop, three $60 new home shops, a $30 photo audit of a health food store, and got $10 and $15 bonuses on three fast food shops without even having to beg for them, something that was unheard-of in my first few months. The MSC’s just don’t argue about it; they know I know these shops are hard to fill and they also know if I’m going through a remote town and offer to pick up a shop for them, they need to take it or leave it because I won’t be back there again for another month.

I started out believing those shop prices on the board were the price of the shop. I wouldn’t have tried to ask for a bonus in my first month or two of shopping even if I’d known I could. I was low on the learning curve. I didn’t know if I could do the job yet. It’s one thing to blow a shop and lose a $5 fee; it’s quite another to try to pick up a remote shop, invest time and gas to try to make a $50 fee, and then blow the shop due to inexperience. I wasn’t ready for high dollar shops until I had at least 100 shops under my belt. There were skills that needed to be developed, mistakes to be made, lessons to be learned, equipment to be mastered.

Nowadays I still take bank shops for $10 now and then because they’re quick and easy, but I build my routes around significantly higher dollar shops. And if I don’t like a shop, I have no qualms about telling the scheduler, “I won’t touch that for less than $xx.xx because I don’t like the food, don’t like the neighborhood, am sick of tacos, whatever.” And I stick to it. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t. I don’t look back.
But I realize that it is important for newbies to pay their dues with the cheap shops, and make their mistakes with the cheap shops, and learn how to do the shops without expecting bonuses from schedulers who have no clue if the shopper is reliable or not. If I ask for a bonus, neither I nor the scheduler needs to wonder if I will be able to deliver. By now, I am a known entity. I’ve blown very few shops and have never flaked. My reports are correct and require little editing. My photos are quality. My receipts are legible.

So, newbie shoppers who are reading this, take those $5 shops early in the month. Give them your best shot. If you blow it, you’ll lose the $5 and won’t be reimbursed for that burger. And if you blow it early in the month, the scheduler has time to get another shopper to cover the shop by the deadline. You won’t make much the first couple of months and the cash doesn’t start coming in for a month or two either. But if you are determined enough, and take the time to study the guidelines, follow instructions, get the report in on time, and prove you are reliable, you will soon start seeing higher offers on your job boards and will find schedulers agreeing to pay you a travel bonus.

A year from now you might be able to pick and choose which $40+ shops you want to take to fill in around a $100 shop you anchored a route with. Or you might be doing routes of video shops for $40 or more each. And those $5 burger shops will be a distant memory, left for next year’s crop of new shoppers to take on so they can pay their dues.

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