The drone services market is hot right now. There are all sorts of business opportunities coming up ranging from aerial photography to infrastructure inspection and 3D mapping.
In other words, it’s a great time to get into the drone business. You may have realized that also and maybe you are thinking about going from a casual hobbyist to a serious drone entrepreneur (dronepreneur?).
Good for you.
I’m assuming you have some experience flying drones, you have obtained (or are planning to obtain) Part 107 Certification and already have some idea what kind of niche you want to get into.
Maybe you’ve even saved some startup capital or are considering borrowing from a friend or getting a loan.
But before you dip your foot into the world of business and all its risks, take a few lessons from these dronepreneurs who’ve been there.
Below are some nuggets of wisdom I collected from various drone business owners, mostly on Reddit.
They include mistakes they made, things they wish they had known when they started and important lessons they learnt.
1. There’s More Money Away from Photography and Videography
The market for drone photographers and videographers has become saturated. This is mostly because of the low barrier to entry.
All someone needs is a decent $600-$1,000 DJI drone with a 4K camera, some experience taking shots from above and a Part 107 certification.
Then they can start shooting photos and videos for real estate, resorts and anyone else who needs to market their property or institution.
At first, drone photography used to be a lucrative business. But with so many people doing it, it’s a race to the bottom in terms of rates.
You can still get into it but don’t expect to make much money. It’s also going to be hard to find customers and compete against large companies with generous marketing budgets.
Most drone owners, including this one are finding more success away from drone photography and videography.
Areas like inspections and mapping are still lucrative and the high barrier to entry (experience, skills, time etc.) keeps the field fairly sparse.
2. How to Get Your First Customers: Aggressive Marketing and Cold Calls
The biggest challenge for many drone entrepreneurs starting out is finding customers. If you don’t do it soon enough, your business dies before it even gets started.
Most drone business owners say they had to invest in aggressive marketing in the begging and sometimes even cold calls and proposals.
Advertise online to land small and mid-size businesses and use cold calls and proposals for large companies.
Make sure your startup capital will cater for initial marketing and get ready for a lot of slow days.
But it gets better with time. After the first dozen customers, many entrepreneurs got most of their clients through word of mouth.
Just remember to provide excellent service that your clients are eager to recommend to others.
3. Watch out for Rapid Growth
This entrepreneur had a company that started with just $3,000 in revenue in the first month. It shot up to $30,000 in the second and $100,000 the other month.
It almost killed his business.
Growth is good and much welcome but too much growth is potentially fatal for your business.
You most likely won’t have the resources to satisfy all customers, leading to cancellations and poor quality work.
The best advice from entrepreneurs is to only handle what you can. Don’t let the money lure you into taking on more work than you can handle.
Prepare for future growth by gradually adding more employees, making your business more efficient and investing in additional resources.
Growth will be slower but you’ll have happier clients and a more stable business in the long term.
4. You Don’t Have to Buy Expensive Gear
The budget is tight when you are starting out and you need to maintain healthy cash flow to keep your business afloat.
Going for expensive gear, some of which you don’t even need, puts your business at unnecessary risk.
Forget the $30,000 drone and go for a $2,000 DJI Inspire. You can even buy a used drone especially if you need a specialized model for projects like mapping.
As you grow, you’ll be able to invest in advanced equipment without hurting your business.
If you really need a pricey piece of gear right now, one business owner recommends financing. This will allow you to maintain healthy cash flow.
5. Use Verifly for Liability Insurance
Drone insurance can be pretty pricey when you are paying annually.
This is not a problem if you are getting a lot of business and you are constantly working on projects. But in the first year when work is spotty, it will be too expensive for you.
Here’s a better option suggested by several entrepreneurs.
Get an annual hull insurance policy with a company like State Farm. But for drone liability insurance, go with Verifly.
They have a really flexible model where you only take out drone liability insurance for 1, 4 or 8 hours. Payments depend on where you are flying and can be as little as $10 per hour.
You get protection for your drone and your clients without spending a bunch of money on an annual plan you are not making full use of.
With time, as you get more work, you can switch to an annual policy for both hull and liability insurance.
6. Consider Offering Complimentary Services
This keeps you ahead of competition and adds more revenue to your bottom line.
For instance, you can offer a data analytics service as some companies are doing to offset competition in the main drone market.
Instead of just taking aerial maps, you also analyze that data for your clients. You’ll need to invest in software and perhaps an extra employee to handle the analytics but it puts your business on a more stable footing.
Another idea for aerial photographers especially in industries like real estate is to also offer ground photography services.
The client will be glad they don’t have to hire two different pros.
Study your niche and see if there are any extra services you can bundle with your main package.
Do you own a drone business? What advice would you give to aspiring dronepreneurs?