Most mystery shoppers print out their mystery shop assignment’s guidelines and report questionnaire to make completion of an assignment easier. Printing out the guidelines and questionnaire allows you to read the fine print more carefully, as well as to take the info with you and review before you walk into the assignment location. After you complete your assignment, however, you may be tempted to toss your papers in the recycle bin and call it a day. Don’t! Here’s what you need to know about assignment paperwork:
For Your Payment. You may be tempted to de-clutter your desk and rely on the mystery shop provider’s website as proof of the job you have completed. If there is ever a problem getting payment on an assignment, you can always refer back to the website to access your paperwork, receipt, and other required documentation, right? Possibly, but not always. It’s a good rule of thumb to keep your own records, rather than rely on someone else to keep them for you.
Keep your own copy of the receipt, guidelines, and a hard copy of your final report. If you don’t want to keep all of this paperwork actually printed out and floating around on your desk, you can develop a filing system on your computer and simply click “Print to File” to get a digital version of your paperwork saved on your own computer. If you opt for the digital version, be sure to do a computer back up regularly to avoid losing valuable data if your system crashes.
For Your Taxes. The IRS will tell you to keep copies of your filed tax returns as well as all supporting documentation for seven years. A smart accountant will tell you to keep copies for ten years to be on the safe side. In the event you are audited, you need to have the supporting documentation to justify not only your claimed income, but also your write-offs. As a mystery shopper, you likely are keeping track of all of your business-related expenses, including required purchases and travel expenses. Your assignment paperwork not only serves to support your claimed income, but provides proof of legitimate travel and other business-related expenses.
Organize Your Paperwork. You can keep hard or soft copies of your paperwork, depending on which method is most convenient for you. Regardless of how your store your paperwork, eventually you will get lost in a massive amount of files and papers if you aren’t organized.
If you store your files on your computer, first set up annual folders. Inside each year’s folders, you can create subfolders for either the providers you work with, or for the month the assignment was completed. Which method you choose is going to be dependent on the number of assignments you complete and the number of providers you work with. In the current year’s folders, you may want to create a first layer of folders for “Paid” and “Unpaid” assignments. Then, inside the Paid folder, you can subdivide based on months or providers, as you’ve done for prior years. This will help to keep you organized on which providers still owe you money. If there is a problem with payment on an assignment, you can easily and quickly access the appropriate paperwork.
If you store your files in a file cabinet, you will want to invest in both manila folders as well as larger hanging folders. Use the larger hanging folders to keep the paperwork divided by years. Then inside each hanging folder for each year, use the manila folders to subdivide by providers or months the assignments were completed. Again, for the current year, dividing your paperwork between paid and unpaid assignments will help to keep you organized.
The trick to keeping yourself truly organized is to file the paperwork away as you go. It may be tempting to keep a stack of paper on your desk in the “To Be Filed” corner of your desk, but it’s best to avoid this urge. Taking an extra minute or two to file the paperwork as you go will keep your desk clean and the paperwork where it belongs.
Paperwork is probably the most unpopular aspect of mystery shopping. But you can get a handle on your paperwork with some simple organizational techniques, ensuring the paperwork is where you can find it in the event you need it down the road.