Drones are becoming ever more popular and with it come new opportunities. Want to make money with a drone? Now is certainly the time!
How would you like to make money with your cool little flying machine? Let’s face it – driving around with your drone completing drone flying “missions” and earning a nice chunk of money for it can be extremely fun and rewarding.
But how do you get there? How do you get your first paying gig? What are the equipment you will need? What is the groundwork you need to lay before you can make money with a drone?
This article will answer all of the above questions. Read on, if you want to make money with your drone!
FIRST, we’ll discuss what you will actually need to possess to become a professional worthy of making money with a drone – Your equipment (drone and accessories), certification and flying skill level.
Do you need the most expensive drone out there to get started? Most certainly not! In fact, if you are just getting started, getting the best drone possible is probably not the best decision in terms of budgeting, especially if it is limited. If you want to make money with a drone, you have to plan wisely as a beginner.
That being said, a hobby grade quadcopter will definitely not cut it even if you are starting out in the advertising line and you will need something powerful enough to handle marketable photography and video. So what are your options, really? The following are some examples of minimum budget (as of 2017) you
- Real estate and other types of advertising, wedding photography and video: $600 - $ 1000 (think DJI Spark, Phantom 3 4K and upwards).
- Action sports and film making: $1000 + (think Phantom 4 and upwards). It is recommended that you get something similar to the likes of the DJI Inspire series, however
- Inspection, mapping, topological surveys: $25000+ (think Delair-tech drones, for example)
- Agriculture: $10000 + (think DJI Agras MG-1, Sensefly eBee).
These are of course, rough examples and prices are subject to change but as you can see, the budget varies significantly. What niche you intend to go into to make money with a drone will ultimately determine how much you end up paying for your drone.
Of course, if you get a cheaper drone like the Phantom 3 4K, you may have to upgrade rather quickly in order to expand your client base and to be able to fly year-round in every possible weather conditions. If your budget is limited, you can get away with it, but getting something in the Inspire series will make you future proof, in case you want to quickly expand the work you do into action sports and film making.
Like the drone itself, the accessories you need to make money with a drone will entirely depend on the niche you will get into. Below is a rough list. With many drones, you’ll get most of them:
- A decent carrying case
- Lens protection, lens hood and ND filters
- Additional batteries (2 will do)
- Additional propellers
- Sunshade for your transmitter
- · Additional memory cards
- · Propeller balancer
- In case of late evening/dusk photography: LED lights
Do you need to get certified to make money with a drone? Do you need the Part 107 certification? Short answer is, yes. Making money with a drone is classified as “commercial use”. This includes the selling of photos and videos taken using the UAV, providing contract services like factory inspection, agricultural inspection, wildlife survey operations and providing security and surveillance operations with the UAV –essentially anything you’d do to make money with a drone.
Effective August 29, 2016: If you want to use the UAV for these commercial purposes, according to FAA: “The person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate (Part 107), an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate.
So what do you do? Simple – study and pass for the Part 107 certification exam and get certified. The FAA has put up a study guide here. However, this might not be enough and some questions can take you by surprise. We highly recommend the Drone Pilot Ground School. Though it costs some money, it will almost certainly guarantee a pass which is far better than spending money and time to retake the test multiple times!
Flying and niche specific skill level to make money with a drone
While you do not have to be a drone Jedi master, we recommend you at least have a year worth of practice flying under your belt before you try and sell your services in order to make money with a drone. In the meantime, you should focus on building relationships in the niche of your picking.
Another skill recommended while going about trying to make money with a drone is to know how to maintain and repair your drone in case something goes wrong. Think of it this way - Consider that you have the option to hire two drivers. Both of them are great drivers, but one of them has the skill to work under the hood and fix things if something goes wrong with your car. Who would you hire? Most of us would pick the one with the extra skill!
Drones are much like vehicles in this regard. While flying to make money with a drone, any number of things can go wrong to impede your project including broken or unbalanced props, broken motors, gimbal obstructions, body imbalances and many other malfunctions.
While you do not need to have the technical know how on how to engineer a drone or program a flight controller, you will be at a significant advantage if you know how to assemble a drone kit into a fully functional drone.
Flying skills are of course, not the only thing you will need to have in order to make money with a drone. Whatever niche you pick, you need to develop specific skill sets for that niche. This is where you should start small. For example, unless you have been doing aerial videography for a long time, you should probably steer clear of trying to get into action sport cinematography.
The ideal place to start for a beginner with absolutely no niche specific skills would be something like real estate photography and other types of advertising.
You could be the best drone operator in the world and be the best in your niche in terms of technical skills but if you are not willing and cannot market and sell your services you are probably not going to make money with drones. At least not much
Starting a drone service business is no different from other businesses. You need to have a framework for getting clients, closing the sale for your services, retaining them and scaling to ensure that your business grows. Landing a few gigs here and there may be great to make some pocket money to buy a new TV, but if you want to make a living, you NEED to know how to market and sell.
If however, your goal is to simply make some pocket money, you may try out online services like DroneBase. With this, you pick “missions” in your local area, complete them, upload the work and if it gets accepted, you get paid.
This is not to say you can’t make a lot of money with something like DroneBase, but you’ll be better off if you have your own business. Not only because will you earn more, you will OWN your clients and your business.
Insurance and other legal considerations while making money with a drone
I don’t know about you but the vast majority reading this are humans. As humans, we make mistakes. This is true even for skilled, professional pilots in the business. Playing around with drones as a hobby itself is no risk free joke, let alone flying for commercial use!
The last thing you’d want is your drone to crash into a power line and then onto someone’s pet dog. Large lawyer fees and spending a fortune on paying fines is a risk that drone pilots will always be taking, just by merely flying.
Getting a drone insurance will provide you protection against accidental damages caused by your drone (third party liability claims) and to the drone itself. In most cases these days, clients won’t even work with you unless you are insured!
How much does drone insurance cost?
First, you need to understand that there are two types of drone insurances:
- Hull insurance: The insurance coverage for the drone itself. This is mostly useful if you are flying a higher end, expensive drone that is used for agriculture or power line inspection (typically worth $10000 +). For photography type drones, companies like DJI offer their own insurance for the drones they offer.
- Liability coverage: There are many factors that determine the cost of drone insurance. Namely:
- · Whether or not you are certified under FAA part 107. You have to pass the test anyway, to operate legally!
- · The location where you will be most using the drone
- · Your past experience flying and logging habits
- · The purpose of your drone use: Power line inspection for example, may cost very differently than photography
- · The model of your drone
If you are starting out with a $1000 drone, you should expect to pay around $700 - $1000 per year for$1 million liability coverage. How much coverage you should go for will entirely depend on the type of clients and the type of work you do, of course. It is important then, to consider potential risks and go for a policy that reflects your needs.
If you are using multiple drones, you will have to cover them separately!
Where can you get drone insurance?
There are many companies that offer drone insurance policies. Following are some examples (we are not affiliated with any of them and it is by no means a comprehensive list). Some of them like Verifly even offer hourly payment plans!
- Verifly (On-demand insurance)
How to make money with your drones? : Top ways to make money with a drone
Now that you have the groundwork laid out, in this section, we’ll now go over the different ways to make money with a drone after you have put in the time and money to get your equipment, certification and insurance in place.
In the next two sections, we’ll actually dive deep into the two main ways that we recommend: setting up your own drone service business and getting a drone job (you may choose to read the sections depending on your goals).
Here, we’ll just glance over the different ways you can make money with a drone, some of them not involving flying your drone:
TOP recommendation: Starting a drone business
If you love flying drones and RC crafts and love the idea of making money flying a drone, there is no better time to start your drone service business.
The FAA has finally regulated the commercial drone market under part 107. Aspiring commercial pilots have to take the FAA part 107 test and pass it, in order to operate drones legally. This has removed the skepticism in hiring drone pilots. Moreover, since the regulation has only been passed, the industry is still in its early stages and the competition has not peaked as of yet.
The barrier to entry in terms of initial costs is at an all-time low. You can get a drone with a 4K camera for about $600 (without the extra accessories, of course). You also do not even need an office or a bunch of employees. With proper client-getting framework in place, you can be a successful lone-wolf drone pilot and make money flying a drone.
The following are the top drone business services you can provide in order to make money with a drone (we’ll go into more detail in the next section):
- Photography, videography and cinematography
- Mapping and surveying
- Security and surveillance
Getting a drone job full time or part-time
One of the most common and lucrative ways to make money with a drone is to get a job. For many of you out there, marketing and running your own business might be a challenge. If this is the case, then you might want to get a drone job instead.
There are many online websites you can check out for finding “drone jobs”. Here are some:
Drone base (Excellent for part-time gigs)
Join online forums and local meetups. If you want to make money flying a drone independently in the sUAS world, you will need to build your reputation!
Become a drone instructor
With the increase in demand for piloting instructions, becoming a drone instructor is an excellent path to take to make money with a drone if you have the necessary skills, certifications and reputation.
If you go the independent route, you can either choose to instruct your clients in a one on one basis or setup an online course or start a blog of your own. Online course platforms like Udemy are a great way to market your course materials.
You can also choose to work full time as a drone instructor for a drone institution, provided you have built the necessary portfolio. Companies that manufacture drones for different fields like agriculture, search and rescue operations and military look for drone pilots capable of instructing their clients on how to fly their crafts safely.
Become an engineer
If you have a background in electrical and electronics, software or aviation engineering and have the necessary qualifications, (a degree and in most instances, a master’s degree) becoming a UAV engineer is a highly lucrative, highly paid path. With engineering qualifications, you can work in product development, technical support, UAV maintenance technician or QA. Research is another option.
This is not a “drone” job in that it may not involve flying the craft as much as some other jobs, but you may have to fly the craft, especially if you work for the QA department!
Drone business opportunities
Recommended: If you are just starting out and want to get a feel for the type of work you might have to do AND you are in the US, check out DroneBase.
Building a drone business is the most lucrative way to make money with your drone.
How to start a drone business?
How do you start and get successful in the drone service business industry? Pick a niche and focus all your efforts into it. If you want to make money with your drone, you must build your skills, relationships and build clients in that niche. Do not think you can do everything at once, especially if you are just starting out. The biggest mistake you can do is to dilute your efforts by spreading too thin.
If you are just starting out and do not have spectacular flying or other skills specific to a niche, then you should pick a niche that is suitable for you. Real estate photography for example has a much lower barrier to entry in terms of skill compared to action sports cinematography or power line inspections.
The amount you can charge your clients will of course, be directly proportional to your skill set, but remember that there is always a starting point to everything. You absolutely do not have to wait until you learn every possible skill before you can start your own drone service business. In fact serving customers is probably the best way to improve your existing skills and build your portfolio. You can always move into a different, more skill demanding work later on in your drone career.
Next, we’ll look at some drone businesses you can get into and the respective skill level (rated out of 10) you will need.
Drone marketing ideas: How to get customers for your drone business
Offer some services for free (at first)
If you are just starting out, the best way for you to get into the game of making money with drones is to offer your service to potential clients for free or for an incredibly low price. Obviously, you are not running a charity so you will have to make it clear to your clients that they will have to pay for your services if they want more from you.
This step is commonly known as the lead acquisition stage and the goal is to build trust with your customers. You have to look at things long-term if you want success in business. Do not expect anyone to pay you $100 an hour if you if they do not know your work and especially if you are no one in the industry.
The quickest way for anyone to generate new customers for their new business is offline. Think cold calling and attending networking events, trade shows and conventions where your ideal customer hangs out. For example, if your potential clients are realtors, think about attending networking events where realtors hang out and presenting them with an opportunity to help them advertise with your drone. After you have built a relationship with a few realtors this way, chances are you will have a list of regular customers and a drone business that will sustain your lifestyle.
Online marketing of your services is recommended to scale your business after you have built a list of regular customers. This is where you will be driving traffic to your website via organic search, search ads and social media ads.
The key to tremendous online marketing success is similar to what you would do offline. Offer some value at first and THEN sell your services. You will also need to develop at least the following skills to succeed online (or hire someone who can):
- Designing landing pages that convert
- Writing ad copy and targeting the right customers on the right channels to drive traffic to that landing page
Your drone business model: drone business ideas based on your skill level
Photography, videography and cinematography (Skill level: 6 to 8/10, depending on the type of job)
Aerial photography and videography has to be the most common application of drones and in the next few years, we will probably still see photography and cinematography as the leading applications for drones. However, you should consider that there are a myriad of different clients you can serve in this sector and that includes:
- Real estate and other types of advertising (think resorts and hotels) (Most recommended for beginners)
- Weddings (Recommended for beginners)
- News agencies
- Film making
The flying, photography, videography and editing skills you will need in this line of work will vary greatly with the type of client you serve.
Mapping and surveying (Skill level: 8/10)
Drones are extremely capable of surveying land data from air and relative to hiring land survey teams, time and costs are much lower. With drones at our arsenal, it is now possible to gather three dimensional cartographic data with extreme accuracy due to their ability to maneuver, compared to traditional aircrafts.
The following are the industries you will need to look forward to building relationships in, if this is where you want to get into to make money with a drone:
- Construction and urban planning
- Oil & Gas
Inspection (Skill level: 9/10)
We recommend you only get into making money with a drone in the inspection line of work if you have advanced flying skills and have been flying for a while. While the pay rate may be higher, the risk of liabilities is proportionally higher too. The last thing you want is to crash into a power line. The following are the kind of areas you will be working in if you go this route:
- Power line and cable inspections
- Building inspections -- Rooftop equipment, chimneys etc.
- Cell phone tower and antenna inspection
- Rail line monitoring
- Bridge inspections
- Pipeline monitoring
- Wind farm inspection
It is easy to see why we recommend steering clear off this line if you are just beginning commercial drone operation. If your flying skills are less than spectacular and you still want to get into this line of work, we recommend starting with something like rooftop inspection.
Also, make sure you have your insurance and spectrometer properly setup and that you are logging your work.
Security and surveillance (Skill level: 8/10)
Drones are being used to secure sensitive areas from trespassers. Video capture can detect such intrusions and it is easier than ever to document them. Instead of hiring 10 different security professionals and posting them at different locations, it might be much easier and cost effective to hire one security professional skilled at piloting a drone.
It might not be possible to run a service business in this industry if you are a one-man show but if you are a security professional, then this is an area you might want to look into being employed in, to increase your portfolio strength.
This is another niche we recommend you only get into if you have the necessary skills specific to gathering and making sense of agricultural data.
If you are an experienced farmer with knowledge of how to make sense of data of things like variations in soil compositions, pest infection, crop progression and hydration and create workable strategies for better crop rotation and planting strategies, then this is the niche you should DEFINITELY get into.
Some of the ways drones are used in precision agriculture are:
- Crop health imaging
- Detecting soil composition variation
- Pest control
- Optimizing planting strategies
- Crop spraying
- Crop planting
Drone company name ideas: A word of advice
Do not choose a name with words that are popular. This is only asking for disaster. Your customers might get your company name mixed up with a competitor’s. End result? You lose your customers to your competitor.
Jonathan Rupprecht’s article lists some of the most common names drone companies have. I highly recommend you read his article before you pick a name for your drone company.
How much can you make with drone business? How lucrative is a drone business?
Important thing to keep in mind about pricing
The amount you can charge reasonably will depend on the type of drone service you are providing (Ex. Real estate photography vs. inspection). Your skill level and your ability to attract more clients to you will also determine how much you can charge your clients.
But that is not the whole story. We have already covered that you must never compete to offer the lowest price, but to provide more value than your competition. Moreover, the quality of clients you attract will also depend on how much they are willing to pay for your services. A customer that is always looking for a price bargain over quality is service is generally going to be a bad customer in the long run.
The key is to not only provide quality but also to make your customers understand WHY your service is better than your competition. An example of this would be to show them a sample aerial video of a certain location and the level of quality that they can expect from most drone services and then to show off YOUR video of that same location, flaunting the improvements (both with editing skills and the video itself). It is their choice at this point to decide whether or not they want the quality.
How much can you realistically charge?
The best way to determine how much you can charge is to first look at what your competition is doing and what quality level they are providing at that price point. For example, if your competition is charging $1500 for a 4k video of a $1 million real estate, then you can safely elicit what their price points for a $200k home and a $650k home.
You might also wonder whether to charge on an hourly basis or place a fixed charge for your services. We recommend you always place a fixed charge for your drone services unless you are looking for a job and not willing to run a business. For one, you will be able to structure your drone service packages along with various up-sells and we shall see how to do this in the next chapter. Other reasons are as follows:
- With fixed prices; you will be able to show your clients your exact value
- If you are charging hourly, your ability to boost your income will be limited. For example, if you are charging $100 an hour (and there is only so much you can charge per hour!), the only way to boost your income would be to work more hours. Therefore, if you work 8 hours, you would earn $800. At the same time, if you offer a drone videography package for $500 and you scale your business to get a lot of clients and build an efficient system, your 8 hours earning potential is exponentially higher!
- You will be forced to deliver more value and work more efficiently if you are working with fixed prices. If you are charging hourly, it is very likely that you will try to squeeze as much “easy time” as possible and work less efficiently while getting away with your hourly charge. With fixed charges, you have to set a fixed performance benchmark.
This will help your earning potential not only by allowing per hour value delivered increase, but also by retaining more customers by delivering more value.
Make money with your drones by having a drone job
Note: You may want to read our full article on how to get a drone job here:
Having a drone job is another very lucrative way to make money with your drone, other than looking for drone business opportunities. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you like photography and cinematography?
- Do you want to work full time or part time?
- Are you interested in engineering and/or possess engineering skills and qualifications?
- What kind of “drones” are you looking at piloting – Small UAVs or military grade?
- Are you comfortable working stateside or military?
- Do you work for police or the fire department? Are you interested in agriculture?
How to become an official drone pilot?
Most of the requirements on becoming a drone pilot are already covered at the beginning of this article. Also, the skills and qualifications you will need will vary depending on what you specialize in. If you decide to go for drone photography/video, you will obviously need a strong photography base.
However, here’s a quick summary again:
- Good piloting skills (Learn how to fly a quadcopter from scratch here) and working with various software and hardware tools related to your specialization.
- Good team work capabilities
- FAA certifications (Part 107 and/or class 2 medical certificates, depending on the job profile)
- Security clearance (depending on the job profile)
- However, if you want to become a drone engineer, going the technology degree route may be the way for you
Drone job opportunities: How to find them
There are many online websites you can check out for finding “drone jobs”. Here are some:
There you have it – a complete guide on how to make money with a drone. All you have to do is lay your groundwork first – get your certification, equipment and insurance. Then, choose how you’ll be making money with a drone.
Start with a service like DroneBase if you are in the US. Otherwise, pick a niche, get clients, serve and scale your money making system if you are starting a drone business. Get skilled and apply for drone jobs, if that is your thing. Don’t forget that you can also make a money with your drone by teaching others (by starting a website like this one, a YouTube channel or a Udemy course, for example). You can also do in person teaching or join a training company as an instructor.
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