Is it worth starting a drone business?

Starting a drone business is a dream of many people. For me, it is one of my favourite subjects since I love both drones and starting businesses. But, is it worth starting a drone business in today’s climate? Is there too much competition? Are people simply fed up of drone photography? How profitable is a drone business exactly? All of these questions are common questions that people ask when starting a drone business.

In my opinion, it is absolutely worth starting a drone business if you can understand the fundamentals of starting a business. Is there a hungry audience for your services? Are they willing to pay enough for your services? And how will you differentiate yourself from your competition – what is your “secret sauce”?

Answer all of these questions and test continuously with your customer base and I am sure that you will be able to start a drone business which is successful and grows over time. Now, let’s have a look at some of the most important details of starting a drone business and answer some of the most pressing questions.

How profitable is a drone business?

A drone business is as profitable as the number of customers it is able to attract combined with its average sale price.

Drone businesses can be incredibly profitable because there are tons of people and businesses that need drone photography and videography such as:

  • Real estate agents – images and videos for house sales.
  • Real estate developers – images for marketing material and to attract investors into their project.
  • Agriculture – agricultural services can include monitoring, livestock monitoring, crop monitoring, spraying and other bird deterrent activities.
  • TV and the media – they have a 24-hour news cycle and always are looking for drone shots to pad out their stories.
  • Conferences – people want to promote their conference and need nice shots of the area they will be hosting their conference.
  • Local government – local government agencies want images for their social media but also for any projects that they want to start.
  • Weddings – people want photos of their wedding which capture the day and aerial photography and videography is becoming more and more common.
  • And much much more…

There is no doubt that there are plenty of people willing to buy drone photography and videography and deciding on what your niche will be will also allow you to focus in on a profitable drone business. For example, real estate agents probably want images and videos for the house sales but do not have the budget for it whereas real estate developers have a much larger budget and they are willing to pay more since good photography of their development site will allow them to attract more investment opportunities.

Coming up with a scalable service offering and attracting more of your ideal clients is what makes drone business is profitable. We will go over in more detail how you attract clients later on in the article.

Drone businesses are able to charge an hourly rate anywhere up to $200 an hour to $5000 per session for more complicated clients and flight missions.

Even if you work part time you can earn anywhere between $500-$600 per week and by becoming a full-time drone pilot – in your own business – you can easily make six figures annually. Flying for some big-name companies can also get you about $4000 per day – which is incredibly good money.

Even though the money can be good for drone businesses there are a number of start-up costs that you need to factor into your business model.

Let’s take a look at them now.

Drone business startup costs

There are loads of businesses which are very expensive to start-up. Drone businesses – in comparison – are relatively inexpensive to get going.

Here is a rundown of all of the things that you should factor into the start up of your drone business.

Drones

Without drones you do not have a drone business. Therefore, you should have a look at professional level and consumer level drones which will give you a good return on investment.

Luckily, drones are getting less expensive every year which means you are getting better quality footage at lower prices. For example, the DJI Mavic air 2 is an incredible drone which you can purchase for just under $1000.

This drone has an amazing camera which you will be able to use to capture amazing footage for your clients. You will be able to capture impressive 48MP photos with a 1/2-inch CMOS sensor while the 3-axis gimbal provides 4K/60fps video. The secret to incredible HDR video is a high-performance Quad Bayer image sensor. OcuSync 2.0 has a video transmission distance of up to 6.2mi / 10 km.

You can even start your drone business with a second hand drone and if you want a complete rundown on how to buy a second hand drone check out my other article – how to buy a second hand drone – 50 part checklist – click here to be taken to article.

If you want to do more professional level shots you will have to buy something like the DJI inspire which costs up to $2000.

This level drone will allow you to access clients that want Hollywood level cinematography. However, for most drone clients you will only need a consumer level drone and the DJI Mavic air 2 should be something that you consider purchasing.

The DJI phantom series drones are also an incredible purchase and will offer a wide variety of options for your business.

If you want to enter a more niche market for example agriculture, you will need to buy a specific function drone which will allow you to spray crops et cetera.

Insurance

If you are operating a drone under a commercial basis you will almost certainly need insurance. You need to buy insurance which covers you for public liability and property damage if you are going to be flying near property and people – which is almost certainly every single drone flight.

The insurance will also cover you for any drone damage that you encounter and pick up during your daily activities. Some drone insurers will allow you to replace the drone up to 3 times a year. That is incredible peace of mind to make sure that you never have any downtime while running your drone business.

Licenses

If you are going to fly your drone commercially and it is over 250 g you are going to need a license to fly and operate the drone.

Depending on your jurisdiction and country your drone license and pilot’s licence may end up costing you upwards of $5000. In other countries all you need to do is pass a simple online test and you will be able to fly your drone commercially under a certain weight limit.

Licenses also allow you to operate under some more relaxed conditions than if you didn’t have a license. For example, in Australia – you are able to fly 15 m closer to people if you are a licensed drone pilot. You are also able to fly in restricted areas as long as you have prior permission and understand how to navigate the legal framework that CASA has put out in front of you.

This start-up cost is something that you’re going to have to factor in to your new drone business.

Website

Setting up a simple website for your drone business can cost as little as US$200. If you are Internet savvy all you need to do is get yourself hosting and a domain name and you are able to set up a website relatively quickly.

Your website should be professionally designed and fill potential clients with confidence that you are a professional entity. A robust about us page and some blog articles and portfolio items are mandatory for ensuring the visitors see you as a credible business.

The rule about websites is that the simpler the design the better and you wanted to load incredibly fast – there is a high bounce rate from websites that take more than three seconds to load and therefore you should focus on keeping your website clean, minimal, and fast loading.

If you are unsure about how to do any of this make sure that you contact your local website designers and Webmasters and they will be able to point you in the right direction.

Software

You are going to have two purchase software to edit the raw drone footage and photos. There are plenty of free options online. If you want a rundown on the best drone photography editing software check out my other article where I go through the seven free and paid options.

Drone photography editing software - header

Typically, people tend to use Adobe editing software as it is widely available, relatively inexpensive, and incredibly powerful. It is also the industry standard for video editing and photo manipulation.

If you prefer open source and free versions you can use da Vinci resolve to edit your videos and you can use gimp as a photo editor. I also use Rawtherapee for colour grading and dehazing my drone photos. The

Logos and marketing

One of the last biggest costs for starting a drone business heart logos and marketing materials. If you are good with a vectored graphic editing software such as Illustrator or Inkscape you will be able to create one for yourself at relatively low cost.

If you approach a marketing company you can expect to spend about $2000 on a logo and a basic website design. With everything in the marketing space the cost can quickly blow out if you want the premium service option.

Do not waste your money on the perfect logo and the perfect marketing material you are going to have to use that money for starting up a website, buying inventory and capability, and then having a little bit of fire extinguisher money if things go wrong – which they always do in the early days.

How much does it cost to start a drone business?

Taking into account all of the different aspects of starting a drone business it can cost you anywhere between US$2000 and $10,000 to start a drone business. This includes all of the drones, insurance, logo, website, and marketing costs that are associated with getting a business off the ground.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively low start-up cost for a business compared to many different types of businesses where you need to buy inventory to sell. Because this is a service business you are going to have to focus on creating a streamlined customer journey and not focusing on high-end products other than making sure your drones are capable of capturing some amazing footage and that 4K footage is easy to deliver.

That is how much it costs to start up a drone business now let’s have a look at how much you can offset that cost and how much you can charge.

How much should I charge for drone services?

How much you can charge for a drone service really depends on your reputation and the sorts of service offerings you have for your clients.

There are two main pricing options: hourly or daily rate or packages. Using an hourly or daily rate quite often gets you into trouble as people want you to be as efficient as possible with your time and maybe don’t understand the amount of time it takes to get drone photos and videos.

Hourly / day rate

You can set your hourly and day rate to whatever you need to to cover your costs. Typically an hourly rate will be somewhere between US$150-US$200 per hour and a day rate can be anywhere up to US$5000.

When you are first starting out you will probably have to accept a much lower rate so that you get the early customers based on price.

These early customers that really want the budget version of proline can be long-term customers but they enable you to build up a portfolio of evidence and they build confidence in future customers as long as you do a good job.

Packages

you can create wages for your business which mean that all that you have to do is deliver a good service. This is by far the preference of the business world as an hourly rate can easily lead to arguments about how long something should take.

You can set up different packages for example a gold, silver, or bronze package. And the amount that you are able to charge will be based on the sorts of deliverables at the end of that package. Are you going to give them video? Are you provide photos? Is it going to include video editing and colour grading? What is the turnaround time going to be?

All of these questions will enable you to work out how much you need to charge for a package. Anywhere between US$500 (for basic packages) to many thousands of dollars for intense projects and project scopes will allow you to be flexible and price accordingly.

What you say on how much are they charging you’ve made sure that you are competitive in the marketplace compared to your competitors you need to get clients but how do you get business clients? This is almost certainly one of the hardest things to do.

How do drone businesses get clients?

Getting your first clients and customers will be the hardest thing you have ever done. You have to work hard in convincing people that you are able to deliver what they want and you have to spend a lot of time negotiating and being agile to what the consumers and customers want.

That said, as soon as you start to get clients – if you do a good job – you will end up with a lot of word of mouth referrals. Here are some of the common ways where people collect customers.

Websites (SEO)

Having a website is a great online business card but unless people are visiting the site it acts like a bit of a ghost town for you and is not an asset. You have to make sure that your website is search engine optimised and you can employ someone to do this or after a weekend of googling you have the ability to build the skills yourself.

Search engine optimisation means that when someone enters a search term into Google your website will pop up on the top of the list. There are some great options for learning search engine optimisation and some of them are absolutely free.

Google also has its own course and certification that you can get so that you will be completely over all of what needs to happen to make your website search engine friendly.

Creating a blog, like this one, will also be a great way to improve your search engine rankings as well as providing authoritative nurse and trustworthiness to your website so that Google ranks you hire over time. In the early days of your website being built you will not see any traffic but small continuous improvements and dedication to creating content that attracts Google’s questions will pay off in the long run.

One of the best, no rubbish, sites for learning about search engine optimisation is income school. Check out their YouTube channel for everything you need to know about boosting your rankings for your website.

YouTube

YouTube is a fantastic place to post examples of your work and put your show reels for each mission and stock footage that you create. If you link this back to your website and you into link the website with YouTube channel that will boost your search engine optimisation rankings but also allow you to showcase to potential clients that you know what you are doing.

In your YouTube footage make sure that you are using searchable terms and that you have a call to action in your description such as for licensing this footage contact me at this email address or telephone number.

Word of mouth

Once you have started your drone business word-of-mouth is can be one of the most powerful ways that you can grow your business.

Doing a good job for one person can quite often lead to other jobs for other people.

You can offer incentives to existing customers with deals and 10% off if they introduce you to another customer. This is a customer get customer business model which is very common and it allows you to grow whilst also incentivising your current clients for recommending your services.

Local area canvasing

When you first get started you may want to consider canvassing your local area or city to find out who needs drone services. There are a load of different services that need drone and aerial footage, see above, and you can simply pop into the services and ask if they ever get aerial photography or photos done.

Leave them with a business card or some marketing material and then keep on going into you score that first customer.

What kind of business can I start with a drone?

There are plenty of business is that you can start with a drone. Even though this drone article is very focused on the photography and videography side there are plenty of other options which you may have not considered. Let’s have a look at a few of the options for the sorts of businesses you can start with a drone – they are varied and all have their niche clients that you can go after.

Photography/Videography

Photography and videography is by far the most in demand type of drone business. There are a load of different types of businesses that need aerial photos and videography.

Making sure that you have a good portfolio on your website and YouTube channel will be the number one thing that enables you to land the best clients. Making sure that your website is searchable for terms that you want to be known for and attract your ideal clients will mean that you will never be out of work.

Drone training

You could also consider doing drone training. You could train other people to fly drones. Your local flight authority will give you the ability to become a training centre after you pass on checks and balances.

Teaching other people to fly drones may also be a side hustle for your business as sharing your expertise with amateur and hobby drone photographers and flyers will be valuable for attracting customers in the future. And also, potentially, attracting new staff members to your

Security

Regularly flying over construction sites to check for security and unknown people can also be an option for starting a drone business.

You need to look for businesses which have to cover a large area and you could offer to do security flights at high risk moments and times that they have identified.

This is a little bit less common in the drone business world but still an option for you.

Asset management

Asset management can be livestock, it can be plant equipment, it can be people and it can be vehicles. People will pay a lot of money to know exactly where each bit of their resources is located at any given time.

Construction

The types of drones used in construction are typically multirotor drones that can carry a camera, lidar module, or infrared camera. They are used to survey land, monitor construction assets, provide progress updates, and have even been used to deliver resources to remote parts of a construction site. Fixed-wing drones are also used to cover large areas to collect survey images.

They can be used to:

  • survey land
  • monitor assets
  • do volumetric analysis
  • identify hazards
  • provide progress reports
  • scare birds
  • deliver resources
  • a much more

If you’re to know more about the type to drone using construction check out my other article – the title drones using construction – click here to be taken to article.

Types of drones used in construction

Agriculture

Agricultural drones can be used for a variety of reasons such as monitoring plant health, counting the number of plants in a given area, and assessing loft losses after a major weather event. Like the other applications in this list agricultural drones can combine a variety of multispectral imagery to provide accurate plant counts all identify health problems early. This data can be used to prevent the spread of diseases or invasive species.

Companies like my drone services that improves crop health and yields. Beyond monitoring agricultural drones can also do large areas spraying and maintenance of crops. This company offers drone as a service for farmers which results in better eco-management because you are not blanket spraying with a plane. And can result in a lower cost for consumers as the targeting ability of drone technology allows for the chemicals or fertilisers to be sprayed exactly where they are required and nowhere else.

So, there are some of the most common examples of where drones are used in business to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

If you want to know more about drone as a service check are my complete guide – click here to be taken to the article.

what is drone as a service

Summary

In this article we have covered everything about is it worth the start a drone business?

Drone businesses have a relatively low start up and a high potential return of investment on your start-up costs.

Whether or not it is worth it depends on the amount of risk that you are willing to accept and how hard you are willing to work on your business. Nothing is guaranteed and you will have to remain agile and flexible as your business grows and develops.

Listening to your customers and changing your business model to match what they need will be the number one thing that will ensure a higher chance of your business exceeding.

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!