You bought your drone, have a few hours of flying under your belt and understand what it means to practice safe, ethical flying.
You’re bullish on commercial drone opportunities and want to know how to get your piece of the pie. Fortunately for you, there are countless ways to take advantage of this blossoming industry.
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For a moment, let’s set aside hardware and software considerations, FAA regulations, pricing and packaging strategies, and flying extremely safely and professionally, and let’s run through a few different ways U.S.-based pilots are already making money with their drones, and how you can too:
1. Sell aerial footage to high-end properties.
Drone photography is changing the face of real estate as we know it.
I’d focus on showcasing properties that are $500,000 or more in value. You’ll have better luck going after the luxury market. Forget anything below that.
It’s not just realtors you can target, folks. Think golf courses, beachside resorts, amusement parks, hunting lodges, or ranches. Ooh, what about ski lodges?
Of course, you’ve got to have a solid showreel, and some real footage to show your prospects to gain trust and credibility. I’d start local, filming your or your friends’ houses or properties, practicing both indoor and outdoor footage. Once you understand what kind of photos and videos you and your equipment can produce for a customer, you’ll be more confident in your sales process. Practice, practice, and more practice. The more hours of flight time, the better.
For a half-day shoot, expect to charge $500-$1000. That range can depend on a number of factors, like whether or not you’re providing indoor footage, or if you’re in charge of processing the raw footage, creating an introductory bumper, etc.
Think $500-$1000 for a half-day shoot, then another couple hours to edit the footage. You can always outsource the editing if that’s not your forte.
2. Offer aerial wedding photography / videography.
Last year, my cousin had her wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. One of her guests? A DJI Phantom 2, buzzing about and capturing some seemingly awesome perspectives.
If you’re planning to use your drone to sell wedding photography / videography services, then make sure to work closely with the venue, and don’t fly directly over any guests unless you plan to have everyone sign hold harmless and limit of liability forms.
Also, if you’re an existing wedding photography or videographer, I’d think twice about offering both regular, primary photography and videography and then tacking on aerial shots at the same wedding.
It might be too much to handle when you first get started. May be best to practice as a secondary photographer / videographer and doing a couple of weddings for free or heavily discounted to see if it’s something you’re into.
3. Inspect stuff.
I’ve been working with an asphalt repair company who uses drones to inspect their prospects’ properties before a gig is priced, packaged and sold.
I’ve also been reading a ton about roof inspections, power line inspections, oil and gas pipeline inspections, bridge and cell tower inspections, you name it.
Your technical prowess will likely need to be a bit stronger to sell in this market, and your rig might need to be even more stable and higher performing than a simple quadcopter and GoPro rig.
4. Dive deeper and commit to the industry.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. You don’t need to be a professional drone pilot to make money in the drone industry. Just like any other burgeoning industry, there are opportunities to be hired at companies and to offer value in a number of ways–in a marketing or sales capacity, as an engineer or developer, in a finance or administrative role, you name it.
If you’re passionate about drones, then why not apply for a job at a drone company? Flying isn’t for everyone.
5. Become an FPV racer.
As far as I know, there’s no professional circuit in place just yet, but first-person-view (FPV) drone racing is the sport of the future.
It’s a completely different skillset than becoming an aerial photographer or videographer, but boy does it look fun. And who knows, if you start sharpening your skills now, you might be making big bucks one day on the professional tour 🙂
Already got a few gigs under your belt and want to generate more business as a professional drone pilot? Check our article on drone marketing tips.
Alan Perlman is a drone hobbyist and marketing consultant who runs UAV Coach, a website that helps to push the drone community forward with educational and inspirational content and training.