Over the last few months, Leslie and I have been slowly building a decent proven list of alternative income resources, executing assignments, collecting payments, and tracking performance.
It’s very exciting to see how these many small sources are starting to come together to provide a significant amount of extra income each month. Our goal over time is to provide reviews of what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and to collect and share as many ideas as possible. We will be transforming this series of posts into a dynamic and growing alternative income guide. We will also cover additional topics surrounding work as an independent contractor, taxes, and other personal or financial considerations found when investigating non-traditional and online income. Additionally, we will be including extensive mapping to some of the terrific alternative income resource ideas that have been published by the PF blog community.
To kick things off we are going to start with a flexible, profitable, and most of the time fun income stream: Mystery Shopping.
Mystery Shopping is usually the process of participating in, or gathering information on, a business transaction and then evaluating the process, level of customer service, and the actions of the associates involved. Different job opportunities with specific timing and evaluation instructions are advertised online and an interface is commonly provided, giving you the ability to sign up for shops in your area and that are convenient for you. Along with a commission for completing the assignment, often a full or partial reimbursement for a product or service is included in the earned payment.
We have participated in everything from free pizzas (plus commission) to evaluate crust thickness, to free memberships (plus store credit) to evaluate store sign-up procedures, gas stations, drugstores, even free bowling and restaurant food. Mystery shopping is extremely flexible because you only sign up for the ones you want and lots of fun because you get paid for reviewing free stuff.
ICC Decision Services / ICCDS
The first company we will review is ICCDS or ICC Decision Services:
Short Description: One of the best mystery shopping programs found to date. Simply sign up, enter demographics and location, then complete mystery shops in your local area. A typical shop involves evaluating the store, possibly interacting with an associate, making a purchase (many times the shop payment includes up to $5 or $10 in reimbursement), completing a small survey online, and mailing/faxing in the receipt. Earnings are usually $10-$20 per shop and depending on your location may be offered several times a week. Payments are made every 30 days via Paypal after receipt is processed.
Danger Zone: After signing up be sure to only accept those shops close to home, and if possible group multiple shops together or time them to occur during your normal errand trips. It’s tempting to sign up for every shop offered and before you know it you are traveling too far out of your way for a few extra dollars. Stay close to home to maximize profits.
Expanded Description:Out of all the mystery shopping websites we have found so far ICC Decision Services is one of the best. It offers the semi-frequent shopping opportunities as well as the short evaluations and the ease of PayPal payments.
One challenge we found was that for the first few months the opportunities were fairly infrequent and far away. Since payment is $10-$20 per opportunity (plus purchase reimbursement, which is pretty cool) it doesn’t make sense to travel very far to complete assignments. We have set an arbitrary radius of 15 minutes from work or home as the time distance we are willing to travel. If you decline an opportunity you are able to choose the reason, and after a few months of declining because “the job site was too far from home” we have been getting a fairly steady stream of closer opportunities. We now complete anywhere from 3-8 mystery shops a month.
It seems that many companies are repeat users of this service, so we often go back to the same stores. I actually find these to be the easiest to complete because I know the location of the store and have had a chance to get comfortable with the scenario. We have done everything from simply checking store cleanliness to conducting a tobacco audit by attempting to purchase cigarettes without ID.
If you currently use ICC Decision Services and want to add your review, or if you have any questions, please comment below.