6 Key Questions to Ask Yourself When Starting a Drone Business
BY Zacc Dukowitz2 March 2023
Starting any kind of business can be intimidating—there are so many different factors to consider, and you know that you only have so much time before you really need to start bringing in some kind of income.
And when it comes to starting a drone business, it might feel like there are even more things that need to be figured out. What kind of drone should I buy? Should I get insurance? And how will I bring in new customers?
Here are our six key questions to ask yourself when starting a drone business.
1. How Much Is this Going to Cost?
When it comes to getting your drone business off the ground, there are almost definitely going to be some startup costs. You’ll need a drone, and you might need accessories, like lenses or extra batteries and props.
Other expenses you might run into are drone insurance, software licenses, and marketing-related costs.
To help answer this question, start by building out a budget, and try to create a timeline for how you plan to recoup these startup costs. It’s really important to consider your goals—if you’re looking to buy a $10,000 thermal system to conduct industrial inspections, that’s a lot different than wanting to make supplementary income doing real estate marketing and construction-site mapping and monitoring with your DJI Mavic Pro.
2. Do I Need Insurance, and If So, What Kind?
If you’re opening your own drone services business it’s a good idea to look into insurance. As for what kind you might want, you’re probably going to want liability insurance, and you may want hull insurance too if you’re flying with a newer or more expensive drone.
Want more advice on drone insurance? Check out our free, in-depth guide to drone insurance for a step-by-step look at all the factors to consider.
3. What Is My Niche?
This might sound obvious, but it’s important to be clear on exactly what kinds of services you’re going to be offering when you launch your business.
Some drone service providers say that they do all kinds of drone services work, offering aerial thermography, mapping and 3D modeling, aerial cinematography, agriculture, construction, mining—basically, that they do everything under the sun that a drone can do.
But we recommend finding a specific niche (or two) and developing a deep skillset there. Hone in, find your ideal customer, and make sure you’re focused on being the very best at what you do.
If you’re selling photos and videos for commercial real estate, really study what top realtors want and what top drone pilots working in real estate marketing are doing to make the properties they shoot stand out. If you’re selling inspections, spend time studying up and become a master of the inspections you offer.
If you can be the best in a certain niche, you’ll be well on your way to having a viable business with a solid customer base.
4. Have I Mastered the Part 107 Regulations and Do I Know How to Conduct Airspace Research?
As you probably already know, to be a commercial drone pilot in the U.S. you need to hold a Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA.
But in addition to federal compliance, it’s important to research state and local drone laws.
It’s not common, but some cities have passed laws that essentially make flying a drone illegal anywhere within the city limits. These laws may get struck down as time passes, since they seem to be in direct conflict with what the FAA allows, but you still need to be aware of them—the last thing you want to do is get into legal trouble just as you’re starting to build your business.
5. Have I Mastered the Technical Requirements for the Job?
Since the FAA’s Aeronautical Test doesn’t test for flight proficiency, in theory you could walk out from the test and start your own drone services business.
But it’s important to step back and be honest with yourself. Have you put in the time, and developed the chops to start flying a drone in the field?
Also, keep in mind that flight proficiency is just one aspect of technical readiness for launching your own drone services business. Real pros are familiar with their camera settings, sensor settings, all of the intelligent flight modes that come with their drone, post-production software—in short, they’ve mastered everything they need to know to do their job well.
If you’re proficient and you’ve built up your knowledge base in all the skills you need for the business you plan to launch, you’ll feel confident bringing in new clients, and pitching them on the different types of services you can offer.
6. What Is Marketing and Sales Going to Look Like for My Business?
Don’t let the idea of marketing intimidate you. At its heart, all this question asks is: How am I going to bring in new customers?
It could be that you have a contact at a realty company, and you’re pretty sure they’ll be your first customer, and possibly connect you with others.
Or it could be that there are a lot of farmers in your area who have been getting curious about trying precision agriculture, and you think you might be able to pitch them on how you can improve their annual yields with data collected via drone.
The specifics of your business are going to determine what you do in terms of marketing and sales.
If you imagine most of your business will come in through word of mouth, you don’t need a souped up website with a bunch of pages—all you need is a simple, elegant homepage stating who you are and providing people with a way to contact you.
At first, having a business card and a one page handout might be the extent of your marketing, and your sales strategy might just consist of knowing what your ideal customer needs and how you can help.
On the other hand, you might decide it’s worth spending some money on Facebook ads targeted for your area, and building a robust website to help you go after high end clients.
Whatever the specifics, it’s important that you think through how you’re going to approach marketing and sales as you’re starting your drone business.
That’s all folks. We hope you found this list of things to think about as you begin planning your drone business useful.
Want to learn about how one drone pilot built a successful drone services business? Read this interview with Derrick Ward, a drone pilot who built his customer base by offering free flights and now charges up to $250 an hour for his services.