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18 Top Tips for Starting & Running a Drone Business

Whether you are just getting started with your drone business or are looking for ways to make it run better, these eighteen tips will get you where you need to be.

#1. Cost Is an Immediate Factor
When you start getting your drone business off the ground, then initial capital outlays will be your greatest adversary. You’re going to need at least one drone, several accessories, extra batteries, and other supplies that will let you conduct services. You’ll want lenses for your camera. There might be software licenses, product insurance, and business incorporation costs to manage. You might even need a special license if your plan is to take aerial images for people in some communities.

It will also take several thousand dollars (if you hire an attorney) to receive your 333 exemption to legally fly drones. Even if you pursue a Part 107, the cost can potentially weigh you down.

#2. Consider the Purpose
When you build out a budget, then it is essential to understand what your business goals are going to be with this opportunity. Your approach to spending will be very different if you’re taking aerial photography or conducting industrial thermal inspections. If there isn’t a lot of money in the bank at the moment, then consider starting small before working up to the bigger services you hope to provide one day.

#3. Never Ignore Insurance
Being in the drone business means you need to be heavily insured for liability. Collision insurance might be necessary in some jurisdictions. If you fly an expensive drone or one that is newer and integral to your business, then hull insurance is another expense to consider. Every business will have unique factors to review, so take some time to see what it will take to protect your assets against the worst-case scenario. If you can afford that kind of policy and still make money, then you’re good to go with this opportunity.

You will want to cover each commercial flight with the correct insurance. Accidents can and will happen, and it is usually at the worst possible time. Over 60% of drone pilots carry a minimum of $1 million in general liability insurance.

#4. Master the Skills
The FAA Aeronautical Test doesn’t check for flight proficiency. That means you can walk out to start your own drone business without much effort. You’ll still need to practice on this equipment if you’re going to have a successful experience. There must be familiarity with sensor and camera settings so that you can produce high-quality images. Even post-production software skills are sometimes necessary to complete products, and it will give you new opportunities to pitch new services to potential consumers.

#5. Get Your License
Commercial drone pilots must hold a remote pilot certificate that’s issued by the FAA. If you don’t have this documentation, then you cannot legally operate a drone business. It is also essential to research the local and state laws and regulations that govern this activity. Some cities have made it illegal to fly drones within their city limits, which means it is possible to get into legal trouble without realizing it.

#6. Find Your Niche
You must be clear about the services you want to provide when operating a drone business. Lots of companies in this industry try to be everything to everyone instead of focusing on what they do best. There are several areas of specialty that you can use to get started, including 3-D modeling, aerial cinematography, construction, mapping, mining, thermography, and photography. Working in one or two areas is much easier to manage then trying to fill orders in all of them.

Study what the top customers in each niche want so that you can solve problems with your services. It’s the only way to show that you’ve got something valuable to offer. Once you create a viable system that generates profits, then you’ll be ready to expand into other options.

#7. Become a Data Expert
Data analysis is one of the most critical areas of the drone industry today. What you do with it will often determine whether you experience success or failure. Using aerial photography as an example, it means that you get the shot, then edit the footage into a cohesive reel that’s immediately usable. It can mean stitching together the information for your client based on what your findings present. When you are a post-production expert that provides unquestionable value, then there’s no way for the competition to touch you.

#8. Focus on Fast
The entire experience that you provide customers is critical to the success of your drone business. When you can offer a faster turnaround time than your competition with an equal or higher quality result, then you’re going to get more business headed your way. Having responsive customer service policies will add value to the products you offer. If you’re not sure what it is that your consumers want, then ask them questions. They’ll tell you what it would take to win them over if you’re willing to listen. Then immediately implement their ideas so that you can start making some money.

#9. Log Everything
Pilots know the hassle of logging everything they do when being in flight. Even minor changes to an aircraft will take high levels of energy, time, and mental capacity. Digital logbooks can help to ease the pain from this effort, but it won’t save your time. You must still manually input all of the flight information into your databases if local laws require an accounting of your drone activities. Consider having a GPS tracker on your drones to reduce some of your administrative efforts, especially if the info uploads directly into the logs that you need to file for your company.

#10. Stay Hungry
There are lots of people trying to break into the drone business right now. It seems like this idea is an easy way to make money, especially if there is already familiarity with photography and inspections. The reality of this opportunity is that if it were as easy as people think, then everyone would be doing it as a way to make some extra cash. Put in the hard work and stay hungry when you follow up with this opportunity. Having the desire to keep pushing forward is what will separate you from the rest of the competition.

#11. Understand the Definition of Compensation
Any form of compensation puts you into the commercial category of drone operations from a legal standard. If you’re not sure if you need to pursue the licensing specific to this category, then consider what you plan to accept in exchange for your services. Anything with value puts you into the realm of compensation, even if that’s a free beer, gas money, or a bus ticket.

Even if you operate a drone for your own commercial purposes only, like a farmer using the equipment to plot drainage movement, the FAA considers that person to be a pilot who must have Part 107 Certification at minimum.

#12. Consider Incorporation
Operating as a sole proprietor can be a lot easier when launching a drone business, but it has some critical drawbacks. There is no legal distinction between your business and personal assets. Any liabilities that you have as a company become personal debts that you must fulfill. If you have an expensive accident, then your house, car, and savings are all put at risk. That’s why shielding what you have by forming an LLC is usually an essential step. Most areas allow for a single-person limited liability company to form, so you’ll just need to deal with the administrative requirements of this setup.

If you want to raise funding for your drone business, then your best option is to form a corporation. It will take more time and money, but you’ll find that financing becomes a lot easier to find.

#13. Be Aware of the Model
Most drone pilots can go through their entire career without anyone noticing where or how they choose to fly their equipment. All it takes is one person flying their equipment into a local building or crashing into a car to put your entire business model at risk with this opportunity. It is up to everyone to stay safe and build a positive reputation. Make sure that you apply for any waivers that are necessary to operate a drone under special conditions through the FAA instead of assuming you’re in compliance with all regulations.

If you’re unsure of what is permissible, then ask your local pilot network. Most people in this industry are more than willing to offer advice on how to operate drones successfully.

#14. Flying at Night

You must receive a waiver from the FAA to operate a drone at night. It’s the most common reason why pilots make a request that falls outside of the Part 107 rules. According to 2017 information released by the Drone Advisory Committee, there were 322 total requests approved, and 306 of them were for night operations.

#15. Keep Your Documentation Close
Drones are still a new technology for many law enforcement officers to manage. Never assume that the person you encounter will be 100% familiar with what you’re permitted to do. That’s why a best practice is to work with a binder filled with all of your certification requirements. It helps to keep a copy of your insurance policy in there, along with all of the licenses and local permits that legally authorize you to conduct commercial operations. Even when you have this information available, you might still find yourself detained until everything gets cleared up.

#16. Get Into Security
Commercial and home security are industries that are often very open to the services that drones provide. You can capture live video from a home invasion and transmit it to other devices, including police servers, to keep your community safe. This equipment can monitor water leaks, fire hazards, and other potential problems to keep someone’s property safe. If you don’t have a provider in your community with this service, then it might be an easy way to start a business.

#17. Register the Equipment
The United States requires all drones that weigh at least 0.55 pounds to be registered. You must go through this process every three years. This regulation goes up to 55 pounds, so it covers almost all products except the recreational ones that you see people flying outside. Remember that you cannot fly higher than 400 feet or faster than 100 mph to limit your interference with other transportation networks. You’re also required to keep the drone in sight while flying at all times.

#18. Put a Plan Together
Do some initial market research to see if there are businesses or individuals who could benefit from drone services. If your target market is already overly saturated, then a different opportunity might be a better option to pursue. If you do find it lucrative to proceed, then develop a complete business plan to follow even if you don’t require debt financing services or startup capital. When there are specific steps you can follow to find success, then it is easier to reach your final goals.

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