Drones are, literally, taking off as a business venture. These unpiloted aircraft, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are being used for aerial photography and filming, mapping and surveying, industrial inspections, and much more.
This is only the beginning of the drone industry's takeoff. The size of the drone services market is supposed to grow to $63.6 billion by 2025.
If you are asking yourself how to start a drone business, read on to learn about such necessities as training and certification, researching the market, forming an appropriate business entity, and marketing and promoting yourself.
Drone Flight Training
While you may not actually get on a drone yourself, you still need some proper training to operate one - it flies very high and unforeseen impacts can have serious consequences. It's a legal necessity to enroll in an aeronautical training program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get a remote pilot certificate, which is a prerequisite to starting and running a drone business. This is done under the FAA's Small UAS Rule (Part 107).
To become a commercial drone pilot, you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English
- Be in a physical and mental condition for safe drone flying
- Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam
To get the proper schooling to pass the FAA knowledge test - including drone laws and drone regulations - you can enroll in a training course like the Drone Pilot Ground School.
Other training, including webinars, might be advisable depending on what type of commercial drone operation you are launching. There are, for example, advanced workshops in aerial mapping and modeling, as well as aerial roof inspections.
Requirements for Getting Your Drone Business Off the Ground
One of the first things you need to decide is what type of drone business you want to launch, since the growing number of opportunities have different requirements and costs. Some possibilities include:
- Aerial photography
- Aerial filming/videography (documentaries, short videos, etc.)
- Agricultural inspections
- Supply deliveries
- Mapping and surveying
- Industrial inspections
- Security surveillance
- Underwater inspections (done by submersible drones)
With the growing demand for drones, you might also consider getting into the sales, repair, and training end of the business.
Costs of a Setting Up a Drone Business
When looking at how to start a business as a drone service provider, you should also consider pricing. The price tag for drones can vary according to use. You can get a toy aircraft for under $100, just to get used to playing around with drone technology. A racing drone can cost less than $250 and an entry-level camera drone can cost less than $500.
However, the prices go up as you get to mid-tier and high-end consumer camera drones, professional camera drones, and commercial camera drones, which can set you back $2,000 or more per aircraft. The prices can also fly a lot higher for specialized drones, such as a $10,000 thermal system to conduct industrial inspections.
Charging for Your Drone Business
The average cost charged for aerial or drone photography in the United States is between $250 and $350. However, your costs can be affected by how long the shoot is, resolution, and other services offered (such as film editing). If the aerial shoot goes longer than 90 minutes, it may add $50 to $70 for each additional hour.
Another source claims there are no set rates for drone photography, but they can range from $200 per hour to as high as $5,000 per session for services like real estate photography and building inspections. You can charge per hour, per session, per day, or per half-day.
Conduct Drone Target Market Research
Before doing a business plan for your drone business, you need to do some basic market research. What is the demand for the photography, thermal imagery, agricultural services, utility inspections, lidar (a detection system working on radar principles but using light instead of sound), mapping, or the other type of drone service you are offering in the area you're considering? What kind of competition will you have, how much do they charge, and how do their services stack up beside yours?
Write a Business Plan
A business plan is a good idea to help you map out the details of your drone business before you start laying out money. It will give you a clearer idea of the finances involved and when you can start making money if the business takes flight.
The plan should describe your business, its market, the competition, the organization and management of the company, services offered, advertising and marketing, how you'll get funding, and the all-important financial projections.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers resources for writing a business plan, including a traditional startup plan and a lean startup plan.
Start the Engines of Your Drone Business
Before you become airborne, you need to take care of a few business matters. You'll have to decide on a legal entity for your drone business, how you plan to market it to get customers, and some matters related to its day-to-day operations.
Your Choices for Legal Business Entities
The two most common legal entities for forming a drone business are a sole proprietorship and a limited liability company (LLC). An LLC provides a separation between your business and your personal assets, which may be important for tax and liability reasons in case a court action is brought against the business.
As the name suggests, a sole proprietorship is owned by an individual (an LLC can have different partners, each of whom gets a share of the profits). Unlike the LLC, it offers no separation between the business and the personal finances of the business owner, so it may leave you personally liable for any debts the business incurs. You also may have to obtain a "doing business as" (DBA) certificate if you plan to run your sole proprietorship under a name other than your own.
Depending on where you live, you may be required to reserve and register a business name and register your business through the Secretary of State, usually involving an online process with a fee. Not only should your drone business name be unique, descriptive, and easy to pronounce but your state may also have a legal requirement that it shouldn't be the same as or too similar to an existing business. It's also a good idea to check the name with a federal trademark database.
Permits, Taxes, and Business Bank Accounts
To run your drone business, you may need state and even local permits and licenses. You can check the requirements with your town, city, or county clerk's office, or read the SBA's guide to applying for federal and state licenses.
You will be required to get an employer identification number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for federal tax identification purposes and if you are planning to hire employees. You might also need a separate ID for state taxes.
For tax purposes and to keep a separation between your business and personal assets, you should open a business bank account and set up a business credit card (which can help grow your business's credit rating with its use and prompt payments).
Drone Insurance for Businesses
You'll need to get business insurance to protect yourself legally and financially, especially with the possibility of crashes and property damage. For this reason, general liability insurance is usually a must. You can also take out hull insurance to protect expensive drones from damage. If your business has employees, you might also need workers' compensation insurance.
Telling People About Your Drone Operations
Your drone business won't fly high if you don't have customers. It is important to put in place a marketing plan to get it started and keep it growing. You might want to start by giving yourself a professional brand identity that covers everything including a logo, business cards, stationery, promotions, and the company look on your website. To do this, you can find independent freelance designers and branding consultants available for hire on sites such as Upwork.
While a professional web designer can help you build an e-commerce site for your business (a necessity these days for businesses, especially in competitive sectors), you can also find a DIY solution: site-building platforms like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace. Before you build a site, you should have a domain name registered that matches your business name, so it isn't scooped up by the competition or unscrupulous domain name resellers.
Just as a website is a business necessity these days, so is having a social media plan. You'll have to decide which are the best social media channels to promote your business and schedule a regular series of posts about your business. Further, you'll also need to reply to any requests, complaints, or compliments from customers. You can also use social media to sell your services and make bookings for drone flights.
You should also consider getting a free listing on Yelp, making sure you always respond positively and proactively to customer reviews who praise your service or complain about a bad experience. You can also get your drone company listed on Google My Business, connecting to potential clients through Google Search and Google Maps.
Daily Business Operations
When running your drone business day to day, it's important to keep on top of your invoicing, payments to suppliers, and accounting for tax purposes and to ensure your finances stay healthy. With Skynova's accounting software, you can easily track expenses and income and produce professional invoices that are dispatched to customers via email with a few keyboard strokes, alerting you when they've been opened and read.
If you need parts for a drone, you can use Skynova's purchase order template, customized with your logo, address, order number, and date. To help you land new business, Skynova also offers templates for quotes and estimates.
Taking care of payroll, being able to upload expense receipts and match them with particular jobs, and requiring deposits for large jobs might be other aspects required for the running of your drone business.
We Can Help You Take Flight
While you concentrate on launching, running, and growing your drone business, it's good to know that Skynova has a variety of online modules designed to help small businesses like yours. Not only is our accounting module designed to be easily used but it's backed by a series of articles that will help you to do everything from calculating retained earnings to creating an income statement to showing you how to calculate gross and net profits.
See how Skynova can help you get your drone business off the ground and keep it flying high.