15 Steps to Starting and Running a Successful Drone Business
Thinking about starting a drone business as a side gig or as a main source of income? Doing so can seem like an overwhelming task, but having a plan and doing things the right way can make it more attainable (and profitable). Here are 15 steps that will help you on your way to developing a successful drone business:
1. Buy a drone.
Before you can start a drone business, you will need a drone. While this may seem obvious, you will need to put some thought into your purchase decision. You do not want to buy a drone that does not fit your needs or that you will have to replace soon after buying.
Your drone is a tool. Think about what you want it to accomplish for you. What type of work are you wanting to do with it (photography, videography, inspections, mapping, etc.)? Things to consider when buying a drone include company reputation, durability, sensor (camera, thermal, etc.) quality and intelligent/autonomous flight modes.
Do a lot of research. Read the online reviews of drones you are considering. Test out various models before you purchase so you can choose the one that best suits your needs. You can accomplish this by renting drones, borrowing a friend’s or joining a drone flying club or meetup group. Try to buy the best drone your budget allows to accomplish the types of projects you are hoping to do.
2. Get proficient at flying the drone.
Nothing is more embarrassing than showing up at a job site and crashing your drone. In addition to the humiliation, there is also the liability factor. If you do not know what you are doing, you run the risk of destroying your drone, damaging property and causing injuries. And most likely, you will not be gaining a repeat customer.
That being said, it is important to become proficient at flying your drone before you start doing it for a living. Try to master the basic flying skills so that they become second nature. Get comfortable flying by looking at the drone itself and while looking at the screen (preferably with a visual observer assisting you). Learn all the features of your drone, including the camera, autonomous flight modes, etc.
One way to start this process is by enrolling in a DARTdrones Hands‐On Flight Training Course. This one‐day course will introduce you to the basic skills you will need to build on to become a proficient drone operator. Once you master these skills, you will be ready to take on your first assignment.
3. Study for and obtain your FAA Part 107 Certificate.
To get paid to do drone work, you are required to have an FAA‐issued certificate. This is referred to as a Part 107 license. There is a lot of material on this test that may be unfamiliar to you if you do not have a background in aviation. Some of the material on the FAA Administered Part 107 Exam includes airspace, meteorology, regulations, crew resource management and other topics.
DARTdrones offers both in‐person and online Part 107 Exam Preparation courses. After taking this course (and with some concerted studying effort), you should be able to pass the test with flying colors!
4. Pick a cool company name.
It is important to have a name that is catchy and informs potential customers what your business is all about. Do some brainstorming to come up with some names you like and then do an online search to ensure that name is not already being used. Avoid names that are cheesy or unprofessional. Once you come up with a name you like, register it with the state so that it becomes yours.
5. Design a cool-looking logo.
Just like your company name, your logo should symbolize what your company is all about. Your logo should be professional‐looking, memorable (think Starbucks, McDonalds, etc.) and creative. If your budget allows, hire a professional to design the logo for you. Remember, the more professional your company looks, the more likely potential clients are to hire you. Having a creative and memorable logo is one way to convey that professionalism.
6. Form the company.
Decide if you want to operate as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. When making this decision, it is a good idea to think about how to limit your personal liability if you get sued or something bad happens. You can consult with an accountant and/or attorney to assist you in making this decision. Alternatively, you can find plenty of online resources that provide information about this topic.
7. Decide on your target market.
It is important to have a good idea of which sector of the market you would like to target for your drone business. Do you want to do real estate photography, special events videography, inspections, mapping or some other sector? While it’s okay to provide services in more than one area, it’s oftentimes a good idea to become an “expert” in one or two areas. Consider getting into certain niche markets like inspections or mapping if possible, as this requires a more specialized skill set and differentiates you from your competition.
Conversely, there are a lot of drone operators doing real estate photography because it is relatively easy. Many of these operators do not possess their Part 107 Certificate and are not insured. You will want to set yourself apart from these amateurs by operating professionally, with a Part 107 Certificate, liability insurance, etc. DARTdrones currently offers Mapping, Inspections and Aerial Photography courses that can help you hone your specialized skills.
8. Develop a portfolio.
Before you start advertising your services or approaching potential clients, it is a good idea to have a portfolio of your work to show them. This also allows you to further think through which sector of the market you want to target and get more proficient in your skills.
Make sure your portfolio exemplifies the professionalism you are trying to portray before you begin marketing your company. It’s also a good idea to become proficient at photo and video editing, as much of drone work relates to sharing aerial imagery and videography.
9. Obtain testimonials from customers.
When developing your portfolio, offer to do work for free or at a deeply discounted rate, in exchange for a testimonial. Once your website is up and running, potential clients are more likely to hire your company if they see favorable reviews.
10. Develop a website.
It is essential to have a website to promote your business and provide information on the services you offer, how to contact you, pricing information, and so on. It is important to have a professional‐looking website that showcases your work and is easy for your clients to navigate.
If you do not have the ability to develop a website yourself, it is a good idea to hire a professional. This will pay dividends in the long run.
11. Create a social media presence.
In addition to having a nice‐looking, professional website, it is also important to have a social media presence for your company. This is another opportunity for you to reach potential customers and to showcase your work.
Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are important sites on which to have a presence. Try to get as many “likes” and followers as possible on these sites to help spread the word about your business. Do not forget to keep your social media pages up‐to‐date so that potential clients know that you are still an ongoing, viable business.
12. Network, network, network.
While we would like to think that once we have a website and social media presence, potential clients will be beating down our doors to hire us, but that is not typically the case. We have all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” This is very true in many instances.
To grow your business, it will be necessary for you to get out there and “pound the pavement” to get work. Call on your friends, family members, peers and anyone else you can think of to get the word out about your business. This will require some work on your part, but your reward will be more jobs and more referrals.
13. Market, market, market.
You might offer the greatest service in the world and have a better‐looking website than anyone else, but if no one knows about you, then you will not have any business. The importance of marketing your business cannot be overstated.
Methods of advertising are innumerable, but when spending advertising dollars, do so wisely. Consider who your target market is and how best to reach them. Online marketing is probably the best and most efficient way to advertise to a broad and/or targeted market.
14. Deliver more than your customer expects.
It has been said that, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers.” The best way to do this is to over‐deliver on what you promise the customer. That is not to say that you do not charge appropriately for the work you do. What it does mean is that you are professional in every aspect of the product and service you offer.
Respond quickly to inquiries, act and dress professionally when interacting with clients and deliver a top‐notch product to them. Doing these simple, but often overlooked, things will help ensure that your business continues to grow.
15. Repeat steps 12‐14.
To be successful in any business requires a lot of work. This means that to grow your business and be successful in the long run, you must continue to network, market and deliver more than your customers expect.
Always strive to learn more about your trade and remain enthusiastic. Your customers will see this professionalism and enthusiasm and will continue to hire you and refer you to others.
About the Author: Greg Pratt
After graduating from high school, Gregory Pratt enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserves where he was trained to be an Air Traffic Controller at the age of 18. He attended the University of Texas at Arlington where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree. Shortly after college, he earned his Private Pilot’s License. He was then commissioned as an officer in the Navy and spent six years as a Naval Flight Officer, flying in the S3‐B aircraft off of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS George Washington aircraft carriers. After his time in the Navy, he applied for and was appointed to be an FBI Special Agent. He attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA and was then assigned to the San Antonio office, where he spent his entire career (22 years from 1998‐2019). While in the FBI, he worked White Collar Crime, Public Corruption, and Counter‐Terrorism cases. His collateral (part‐time) duties included surveillance pilot, Evidence Response Team (CSI) member and Team Leader, and Hostage/Crisis Negotiator. He retired in December of 2019 and started a drone business (DroneStarLLC.com) to combine his loves of aviation and photography. Gregory is also an instructor for DARTdrones.
DARTdrones, the nation’s leading drone training company and new Global Aerospace SM4 partner, offers courses in 40+ cities across the U.S. DARTdrones offers basic flight training classes, Part 107 Airman Knowledge test prep courses, advanced industry specific training, and UAS program implementation consulting services. DARTdrones has been helping individuals and organizations develop safe and efficient sUAS programs and continues to keep new and developing safety considerations at the forefront of their curriculum development. For more information, visit us or call the team at 800-264-3907. DARTdrones was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank in February 2017.
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