Can I make money with my drone? [Little known options]

A drone can be a relatively large investment for a number of people. A consumer level drone can set you back anywhere between US$1000 up to US$5,000. It is therefore common that people want to offset the cost of purchasing a drone and seeing if they can make some money capturing footage or providing other services with their drone. For some people, they want to turn their hobby into a dream career and lifestyle by turning their drone from a purchase into an asset.

You can make money with a drone by becoming a pilot for hire (typically $50 per hour), becoming a drone instructor, running drone photography workshops, and selling drones. All of these rely on you building a business that serves a customer need with drone technology.  

Even though there are a huge number of ways that you can make money with a drone not all drone moneymaking opportunities are equally profitable. In this article, I will show you some of the most profitable ways to make money with the drone and I’ll tell you now that it isn’t about becoming a freelance drone pilot.

Ways to make money with your drone

In this section, we will go through all of the ways that you can make money with your drone which include becoming a freelance drone pilot, becoming a certified drone instructor, running photography workshops, selling your drone stock footage to places other than drone stock sites, becoming a drone reseller and also becoming a drone reseller.

Each of these is equally valid but they do not yield the same results and, ultimately, any business is successful due to the owners persistence and a willingness to adapt to market demands from customers.

Become a freelance drone pilot

When people buy a drone the first thing they think about is if they can become a freelance drone pilot. There have been plenty of news articles saying that the drone market size is expected to grow to $63.6 billion by 2025. This means that the sales of consumer drones will increase and the growth is likely to be driven by drones for enterprise. This means that there will be plenty of opportunities if you are willing to specialise in a drone application such as drones in agriculture, construction and mining, insurance, law enforcement, and other niche applications.

By targeting areas of the drone market which are profitable and have a real pain point that can be solved by drone technology you will be able to leverage your piloting skills for a much higher wage than someone who has a commercial level drone and takes photographs – as an example.

If you want to stick with drone photography and videography here are some of the rates and I have calculated the yearly wage and what the annual income is minus the yearly estimated cost for running a freelance drone business.

How much does a drone pilot get paid?

A freelance drone pilot gets paid anywhere between $30 per hour up to $150 per hour – depending on the pilot and the types of data that they are collecting for the client. For example, a mining client that is looking for the images to calculate the volume of a stockpile is likely to pay more than someone wanting images for an insurance claim.

Given the wide variety of potential wages in this industry I have created a table where a $30 hourly rate is compared to $200 hourly rate and you can see the difference in yearly wage and what you take home after approximately $20,000 of expenditure each year to keep the freelance drone business in operation.

Here is the breakdown:

Hourly rate ($)30 hour week take home ($)Yearly wageAnnual income minus base costs ($) Before tax
309004320023,800
4012005760038,200
5015007200052,600
75225010800088,600
1003000144000124,600
1504500216000196,600
2006000288000268,600

You will notice that unless you are charging approximately $75 per hour you are unlikely to earn a significant amount of money after you have taken in to account the running costs for the year.

Many drone freelancers do not take into account things like marketing, transport, third-party property insurance, and other overheads such as website maintenance, marketing, social media management, and other outsourceable business activities.

The simple, and bare basic costs of running a drone business are shown in the table below. Obviously, there are huge generalisations and the exact amount will depend on where in the world you are setting your business up, the local rules and regulations, and how often you fly your drone – a drone used for a commercial entity is likely to only have a life span of two years.

This means that you will be spending at least $2500 every year on drone maintenance and replacement of batteries, propellers and other accessories.

Costs per year($)
Drone2,500+
Insurance500
Licenses5,000
Third party property insurance1400
Transport10,000
TOTAL19,400

These costs are far from exhaustive and I think are likely to only go up in the future as the price of transport, and other insurances increase. This, combined with the increased competition of people you are able to purchase a drone and take great shots for clients will mean that the amount of profit you get each year will get smaller and smaller.

Can you make good money being a drone pilot?

There is no doubt that there are a few people making good money being a drone pilot. But I think that for the majority of people they are able to make enough money to pay the bills and not much more.

As the cost of drones goes down and drone technology is getting smarter anyone can buy a DJI Mavic series drone and take awesome aerial photos no real skill other than how to control the drone and how to frame photos.

Also, if they want to get into the aerial mapping game they can simply buy a DJI Phantom for and a subscription to DroneDeploy and they can capture images to be turned into accurate aerial maps.

Increase your earnings

I think that the only way to make good money being a drone pilot is how you make good money in any business:

  • You become an expert in an in demand service for a high-paying customer.
  • You seek out customers that have a particular pain point or issue that you are uniquely positioned to solve.
  • Remain agile to market changes and adjust your service offerings accordingly.
  • Work very hard for a number of years to build up a good reputation so that word-of-mouth propels your business forward.

For many people a drone business is a lifestyle choice and if you are willing to sacrifice some time and energy and work hard on your business there is no doubt that there is some money to be made with your drone.

If you do not just want to become a drone pilot here are a few other options which includes becoming a certified drone instructor.

Become a certified drone instructor

Becoming a certified drone instructor means that you are able to teach other people how to fly their drones. Whether or not you are teaching them to fly their drones for hobby reasons such as photography or if you are training people to fly drones were commercial purposes becoming a drone instructor can be a very rewarding experience.

Can I make money with my drone

To become a drone instructor you have to do work closely with the local aviation authorities to prove that you are knowledgeable and that you are able to run the courses with the appropriate information and checks for your students.

There is no industry-standard certification available for instructors within the drone industry. Often instructors get a certification that does little to test the knowledge they have but enables them to pass the checks required by the local authorities.

For example in Australia, if you want to become a training provider to provide the remote pilots license training you must:

Jumping through their hoops and satisfying all of the requirements will allow you to become a training provider.

Run drone photography workshops

There are also other ways to share your skills with other people – and that is to run drone photography workshops which allows you to share your passion for drones and photography to a group of parameters that are willing to learn more.

Running a drone photography workshop will require you to build up an audience of people that see you as an expert for drone photography.

This will take a number of months of showing your skills online whether through YouTube, a blog, or other social media site before anyone will take you seriously.

Drone workshops can cost up to US$2000 for a couple of days of training. This will often include going out into the field and capturing drone footage and photos with their drones and also using post production software to make the drone photos look awesome.

You can also reach out to other adult education classes and adult education providers to see if they are willing to let you run a course as part of their adult education program for the year.

It will take a little bit of time to build up your credibility but once you have it you will have a captive audience willing to pay to attend one of your drone photography workshops.

You could also decide to run an online workshop as well which would allow you to scale to an online audience.

Sell drone stock footage

One of the most popular ways to earn money from drones is to sell your drone footage and imagery as stock video and photos.

These sites are browsed by content creators and people in the TV and film industry to quickly grab shots to include in their current project. Higher end studios will do all of their own drone footage but studios and creators with a more limited budget will opt to purchase stock footage.

Bear in mind that each of these stock sites will take a fraction of the sale price of the stock footage that you upload. Some of the sites will charge up to 50% of the sale price whilst others are as low as 20 to 35%.

Each of the sites is very similar in the fact that you create an account and use their interface to upload the stock footage you want to sell. Some sites have very strict publication and submission policies. I have had footage accepted by some places whilst other places have rejected it due to copyright issues i.e. a logo was in the footage on a building and also if you include any footage with people that can be identified you need to get a release form.

This can either act as a hindrance or if you’re willing to go through those steps you can produce footage that others haven’t got the time to produce and increase your sales.

Here are some of the sites that you can upload your footage to:

Become a drone reseller

A much more traditional way of making money is to become a drone reseller. You can either purchase secondhand drones all you can sell drones by becoming a representative for a number of manufacturers of drones in your country.

This route requires that you take a much more traditional business approach and you build up inventory of drones that you are able to sell. There is much more risk associated with this but you will be selling drones to people who want to share in your passion and it may be a great way to earn money whilst also using your drone knowledge.

Start a drone website and blog

Another way that you can sell your drone footage is by starting your own website. Unfortunately, this is not the easy or fastest route for monetising your content but it may be the most successful in the long run.

Building your own website and selling your footage requires you to know or learn how to set up a website, drive traffic to that website so that loads of potential customers can see your shots – think of it like traffic on a high street – and then you can also monetise via a number of routes such as ad, affiliate, and selling your stock footage directly to the customer. This has the potential to earn you much more money than the 25 to 50% you will get from a stock site but requires a lot more time, patience, and effort as well as failures to get right.

Setting up a website

Setting up a website is relatively simple all you need to do is register a domain name with a name provider such as namecheap.com and then you can get hosting – my favourite is siteground – for a WordPress website.

Having a self hosted WordPress website is the most flexible but most time-consuming way of starting up a website.

There are services such as Wix.com and Squarespace.com that allow you to set up a website within a matter of seconds. However, with both of these sites if you want more flexible features you will have to pay their increased subscription rate. It is more expensive than setting up a self hosted WordPress site.

Driving traffic to the website

Once you have set up a website you need to drive traffic to that website. You could start a blog – like this one – or you could used paid advertising on social media and other sites to drive traffic to the website. You will have to learn about Google SEO as well as developing all the skills to run the website efficiently.

Driving traffic to the website takes time, effort, and patience. It may take a couple of years to get the required level of traffic through the site before it starts burning a significant income. Making sure that you are watching what your customers are doing on your website and you are able to understand why they are there and what sort of images or services they want to buy can go a long way in making your website successful.

Once you have driven traffic to your website through Google search or other paid methods you can then direct people to your stock footage and videos, or photographs, which you could sell as principal as digital files.

There are more ways to monetise a website that you have set up rather than just using your footage for sales.

Monetizing the website

Once you have created a steady flow of traffic to that website you have a number of options for monetising the website.

Monetising your website through a variety of different methods is going to be the most effective ways of securing income for the future. If you rely just on one income stream that can quickly dry up due to factors outside of your control – for example, a Google algorithm change. I recommend monetising your website via a variety of ways.

Ads

Putting ads on your website is one of the easiest but least effective ways of monetising a website. You need a massive amount of traffic – think many hundreds of thousands of page views a month – before you start earning any significant income from ad traffic.

But it may just be that little bit of income you need to keep going and keep on enjoying your drone adventures.

Affiliate

You don’t actually have to sell your own products or your own drone footage. You could act as an affiliate for other services and products that you recommend through your website. Once again, this doesn’t really start to earn significant amounts of money until you have got a significant amount of traffic going through your site but it may be a little bit of income which you can put towards your drone adventures.

Selling photos

Once you have the traffic of people interested in drone’s and drone footage you could easily start selling your photographs if they are unique, well shot, and perfectly colour balanced. It is likely that you will be taking photos of your local area so selling photos of your local area may help you develop a niche and home in on your target market.

I recommend that you go out and you take photos of your local area and you start to advertise those in local Facebook groups and other areas online where people from that community congregate. Taking unique shots of places that where people live make perfect gifts. Drone footage and shots are a fantastic way of giving someone who has lived in a certain place a new perspective on where they live.

If you’re thinking about selling photos make sure you understand how to edit and explore photos for maximum quality and impact when people are browsing your portfolio.

For more ways of understanding how you can sell your drone footage more effectively check out my other article – how to sell my drone footage? Beyond stock sites! – Click here to be taken to article.

How do I sell my drone footage

Summary

In this article, we have covered all of the ways that you can make money with your drone. Sometimes, the most obvious opportunities – such as freelance drone piloting – are the least profitable over the long run.

There are plenty of ways to make money with your drone and it may be more indirect than you think. Ultimately, this is a lifestyle choice and you have to balance income with the sorts of stress and risk that you are willing to take on as part of your new drone business.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!