A couple months ago you bought a drone. You learned how to fly it, you even took some cool shots with it. But after a few weeks, you let it collect dust. You sit on your couch and lose money.
How? Why? Because you are missing out on one of the fastest growing markets, and you already own the hardware to start a drone services business.
So you’ve finally realized just how big the droniverse is and you want to start your own drone company to stake your claim and get a piece of the pie.
You can start a drone service business, and be profitable, in the same amount of time that the average American spends looking at their phone. Here’s how to make money with a drone:
First, you need to realize that starting a company in any nascent industry is as exhausting and difficult as it is exciting and rewarding. If you can accept that fact, it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
Some of the following steps are drone company specific and some are general business. The first day of Econ 101, Dr. Deak asked my class what the point of a business was. 5 hands shot up in the air with varying degrees of thoughtful and thoughtless answers.
They were all wrong.
The reason that businesses exist is to make a return for their investors (at this point, you’re probably the only investor). If you forget this, your drone company, or any other company for that matter will falter and then fail.
Define your business model
Are you a drone designer? Manufacturer? Operator? How do you bill out? On a project basis, day rate, hourly, or something else entirely. Will you have a very narrow focus (“I shoot real residential real estate in the $1–3m dollar range”) or will you be more of a generalist (“I write software and apps for the drone users”) (See more info on business models)
You’ll need some capital, it may not be a lot, but you’ll need some. Different businesses require different amounts of initial capital but one of the cheapest is to do low-end drone services. You can incorporate, buy a consumer drone and complete FAA paperwork all for a few thousand dollars. You may be able to start assembling FPV racing drones as a service with just the tools you have on hand or building software with a computer you already own. (See more info on funding)
Begin to create your brand
You’ll need a name and an identity; there are a lot of small drone manufacturers, operators, and software companies out there, you’ll be wise to pick a memorable and differentiated name that speaks to the brand you want to build. (See more info on branding)
Make your drone company a real business
Register it and incorporate it as an LLC, S Corp or C Corp. Most sole individuals will probably choose LLC. This will remove some of the liability from you personally and make it easier for you from a tax and personal finance perspective. (See more info on registering)
Comply with regs
If you’re operating drones, file with your civil aviation authority and get legit. If you’re in the United States, Read FAA Part 107 and get yourself and your business compliant. If you’re in a different country, read the rules and follow them. Nothing will kill the industry faster than dangerous and non-compliant operators. Don’t ruin the industry for all of us. (See more on FAA regulations here and here)
Get good at your business
Whether it is flying drones, building hardware or building software, you need to be good at it or you won’t make it very long. More power to you if you are the best at it.
Start earning clients
Build a website. Make industry contacts. Cold call. Market yourself; what does your drone company do better than anyone else? Are you better at X? Are you cheaper than Y? Think about customer pain points and how you can solve them. The drone world is already too full of solutions looking for problems. Identify a problem and devise a solution. (See more about earning clients)
Once you’ve convinced a client that you can be of value to them it’s time to get out on the dance floor and put your money where your mouth is. Like most of life, showing up is 90%. Deliver on time. Deliver on spec. And for pete sake, don’t make more complication for your clients. BE THE SOLUTION.
Make sure that your client is happy. Happy clients talk and talking brings in more clients for you to make happy. According to Ogilvy, 74% of buyers consider Word of Mouth to be their #1 most important purchasing factor. Don’t be bashful about asking them to act as a reference.
Pick your target market
Goldman Sachs identified the drone service market having a potential growth. Within that is an estimated $13 Billion USD of commercial growth that you can tap into.
Drone serviced solutions offer a fix to the growing number of problems in the market.
- Aerial Photography and Film – Aerial video previously required helicopters or expensive custom builds. Your service can offer a high-quality, low-budget option for capturing aerial footage.
- Real Estate – Real estate agents are always looking for a better way to sell a property. The average home buyer spends 60% of their time looking at listing photos. Your service offers a solution to the buyers’ stalemate with these pictures, giving the seller a better medium to sell the home.
- Drone Instruction – There are about 2.5 million drones in the U.S. and it has never been easier to get a license from the FAA. This is creating a group of drone “pilots” who do not know how to fly. This is your client base.
Your drone service business will be the solution that people are looking for.
Aerial photography and film
Cardi B’s music video “Be Careful” showcases the role of the drone in the film and commercial industry.
The drone has a unique wide-angled shot that allows a filmmaker to capture entire landscapes. This allows a filmmaker to capture a high-quality aerial shot.
In the beginning of the video, you see the sun rising and setting to help set the tone of the video.
It sets a background, gives an insight into the plot, and is fully encompassing of the space.
This is called an establishing shot and within 10 seconds, a mood is set.
The drone is much more useful to the film market beyond its wide lens.
Aerial shots are excellent for helping the observer focus in on a setting.
The drone allows creators to capture aerial shots for a lower budget.
This establishing shot from The Shining required a helicopter.
Filmmakers who want to recreate such an iconic scene would be unable to without spending around $1,000 USD/hour for low-end helicopter cinematography.
A Cineflex gimbal system, what you would want to use to get high-quality footage, can cost up to $4,000 to around $10,000. This is only for the system, not the rental cost of the helicopter which would add more to the cost.
Now, filmmakers can hire a drone pilot to get the same shot and stay within budget.
Real Estate agents are always looking for a better way to sell a house. Listings start to blend together and follow a recurring formula wherever you look.
Modern real estate is transitioning out of its old-fashioned era, where a real estate agent stands between a buyer and his home. The agents that compete with modern services such as Streeteasy know they have to impress or get left behind.
Offering your drone videography services to real estate agents will help add to their arsenal of selling tactics.
The photo above is a great example of what a drone can provide a real estate agent. The shot encompasses the entire property and beyond.
This allows the prospective buyer to see the layout of the ground and its surrounding area. The shot also views the property from an aerial view, something other listings will not have.
Developing a relationship with real estate agents is key to making it in this target market. These agents are making their living selling these properties. Any real estate agent will want to keep working with you if you are the factor that sells their properties.
There are approximately 2.5 million drones in the United States. The FAA allows a 16-year-old to get a commercial license just by passing an online exam.
When the “pilots” fly their drone for the first time, they will realize it is much harder than anticipated. This creates a group of people looking for lessons and instructors.
Offering drone lessons is one of the easier ways to get your drone company started.
You are passing on your ability to fly a drone to another person.
You do not have to fly a drone to make money in this sector.
This is also a great way to get your name out in a community.
Elena Buenrostro, from Women Who Drone, set a great example to follow.
She travels the world and teaches people how to use drones.
Starting your business
Your drone services company can turn a profit in as little as two weeks. Before that happens, we want to make sure you are running a legal drone service business.
After drone laws changed in 2016, the FAA made it very clear what needs to happen before you can fly a drone commercially.
Register your drone
You are about to start your own business, let’s not start out on an illegal note.
Register your drone here. It should not take longer than 5 minutes.
FAA 107 license
To fly a drone commercially you will need to pick up a license. The FAA offers exams to test applicants before they can receive a license.
Studying for about an hour a day for around two weeks should be more than enough time to pass the test.
Study materials are easily available and there are over 700 different testing locations.
The test will cost $150 USD. This is a minor start-up cost for any business.
Below is a step-by-step process of how to get your license directly taken from the FAA.
To get an FAA 107 license you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Have the ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language
- Be physically and mentally healthy
- Pass the exam
The exam is designed to test your aeronautical knowledge. The following is required information for any drone pilot.
- Airspace classification, operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
- Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
- Loading and performance for small unmanned aircraft
- Emergency procedures
- Crew resource management
- Perform radio communication procedures
- Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
- Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
- Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
- Airport operations
- Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures
Do not let the list intimidate you. These are all very useful pieces of information you should know as a commercial drone pilot. If you need study materials, click here.
Drone Pilot Salary
The real reason why anyone starts a business, profit. Your drone service business will help solve many problems people are facing in the market. It can also be a solution for you when you start to profit.
You will need to decide how much your services are worth. Here is a rough estimate of your cost:
- $100-$150 starting hourly rates will help you build a base clientele
- Travel expenses if the site is too far (Gas, hotel, food)
- Editing hourly rates $100-$150
- Additional fee for copyrights for your drone footage ($100-$500)
- You can expect to make around $1000 a week if you are willing to put in 10 hours of work
You can already see how quickly the money will be coming back to you.
Now for the money you will make off of drone lessons. You should reserve a field to conduct your lessons in.
This should cost around $50-$200 depending on the space. Add this cost on top of your lessons.
Your lessons should start around $50-$250. Depending on how well you can teach, you can charge more.
This is your drone business and you know how to make money with a drone.
Ready for success
What do this man and the people who did not make it to the end of this article have in common? They both don’t like making money.
In 1976 Ronald Wayne sold his 10% stake in apple for $800 USD.
Do not be Ronald Wayne.
Get in on this market opportunity before it is too late.