How to Start a Drone Photography Business
Drones have become very popular, growing more and more prevalent for recreational purposes. Drone photography is booming because it’s a way to capture scenes that would otherwise be inaccessible. If you have a passion for photography, you may want to consider having a drone photography business. It’s a great way to make money and be your own boss.
A drone photography business offers aerial photography services for individuals and companies. Drone photography can capture unique views of events such as weddings and is also a way to get aerial views of real estate at a much lower price point than traditional aerial photography.
According to Markets and Markets, the drone services industry as a whole was estimated to be $4.4 billion in 2019 and is estimated to grow to $63.6 billion by 2025. Aerial photography as a segment of the drone services industry is expected to grow at the highest rate.
Drone cameras are used for filming as well as still photography. Some drone cameras even offer night vision. Drone photography has many applications, used for surveying hard-to-access land for infrastructure planning, locating natural resources, and assessing property for insurance evaluations. A more common application for the small drone photography business is for residential and commercial real estate.
The target market for a drone photography business is individuals or businesses who want photos or films of hard-to-capture scenes and real estate photography for realtors who need aerial views of properties or virtual tours of a property.
There are also other niches such as photographing boats, landscapes, ariel mapping, building inspection, agricultural photography for crop health, and water distribution.
Skills, Experience, and Education Useful in Running a Drone Photography Business
There are several specific skills that you will need to open a drone photography business.
- Drone photography experience. Just like any photography, drone photography is an art that requires skill and experience. While anyone can learn to use a drone camera, expertise is critical to starting a drone photography business.
- Knowledge of drone and drone photography laws. Drone flight is restricted in some areas, so you have to know where to fly. You also need to know what it is illegal to film with a drone.
- Remote Pilot Certificate. In order to be a commercial drone pilot, you will need to pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aeronautical Knowledge Test.
- Business knowledge and experience. You will need to have at least some basic knowledge of marketing, finance/accounting, and human resources.
- Sales. You need to be able to sell your company to customers as a credible, trustworthy service provider.
- Customer service. You’ll need to be able to build rapport with your customers so that you retain them as customers and gain repeat business and referrals.
Checklist for Starting a Drone Photography Business
If you’re thinking about starting a drone photography business, it’s important to do your research first. Here is a checklist to help you get started.
Step 1: Write a Business Plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your drone photography business should be to write a business plan. The business plan will make you focus on some important aspects of the business, such as who your customers are, how you plan to reach them, projecting sales and expenses, your value proposition to use for marketing, and more. You’ll also need to do some research to calculate exactly what your startup expenses will be and what your ongoing expenses will be.
Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan if you need financing, but multiple studies have shown that having a good business plan increases the odds of starting a successful business. Writing the plan helps you to think through all the aspects of the business and then serves as a guide as you begin.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 2: Name the Business
Finding the perfect drone photography business name can be challenging. Not only does the name have to reflect what you do and be appealing to customers, but it also has to be available to use. You can check your state’s website to see if the name is available and register your name. Your name should make you stand out, reflect your brand, and tell potential customers exactly what you do.
Step 3: Form a Business Entity
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.
When deciding on which business entity is best for a drone photography business, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.
A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay. The corporation can be a good choice because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.
That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.
The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.
Related: Guide to forming your LLC
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!
ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Step 4: Select your Location
Since work for the client is done on-site, many drone business owners operate out of their home or garage, and will sometimes work out of a small office space if they need to meet with clients. Since visibility isn’t an important factor, pricing for space can be affordable.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
There are specific regulations for operating an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) commercially. For starters, you will need to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This involves getting an FAA Tracking Number for the drone and passing the Aeronautical Knowledge Exam. In addition, many states and cities have additional regulations for drone operators to follow.
You will also need to be knowledgeable about the ever-changing laws for piloting drones and follow those laws. Fines for violations can be considerable.
In addition to the drone photographer specific licensing, you may also need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located. Some general business licenses a drone photography business may need include a local business license, sales tax permit, and an Employer Identification Number if you plan to have employees.
Step 6: Find Financing
Related to most businesses, the cost of starting a drone photography business is relatively small. Should funding be needed, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.
Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place
A drone photography business will need to set aside a budget to cover marketing costs on a continuous basis. Since your business will deal with photography, look at social media platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram to show off your work. Developing a website can be a significant expense, but it can also give your drone photography business greater visibility online. You will also need to network with real estate agents and other business professionals that may need your services.
Also, a drone photography portfolio is a must to show your talents and skills in aerial photography.
One important marketing task is developing an online presence. A website developer may be out of the budget, but Wix makes it easy for non-technical people to get a website running quickly and affordably.
Step 9: Get Business Insurance
There are several types of insurance to consider when starting a drone photography business. A few of these include:
Drone insurance consists of accident liability insurance and insurance for the drone and any mounted equipment.
Worker’s compensation insurance covers expenses like medical bills and legal fees that a business might face if an employee were ever hurt while working.
Property and casualty insurance protects you if you damage your client’s property.
The cost to insure a drone photography business will vary depending on several factors. To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, consider not only the premiums but also how the plan exclusions, coverage limitations, and deductibles compare.
Step 10: Hire Employees
You may need employees to help run your drone photography business in order to handle a higher volume of customers. You’ll need to make sure that your employees have the right skills.
In addition to salary costs, your budget will also need to include other employee-related expenses. Workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off are common expenses that a business will need to cover when hiring staff.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 11: Set up an Accounting System
Setting up an accounting system for your drone photography business is critical to the long-term success of your business.
Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.
The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:
- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.
Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.
How much does it cost to start a drone photography business?
Here are the typical costs you will face when you start a drone photography business.
– Commercial drone, cameras, and accessories such as gimbals which stabilize the camera: $10,000 +
– Computer or laptop for video editing $1,000-$2,000
– Software $600
– Drone education and licensing $500-$1,200
– Insurance $600 +
How much does a drone photography business owner make?
Prices for drone photography services vary, but an average drone footage shoot will cost around $100 to $200 per hour. On average, drone photography businesses make $50,000 – $60,000 per year, but there is the potential to make much more if you acquire several repeat customers.
Are there grants to start a drone photography business?
It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a drone photography business. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.
Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.
What is the NAICS code for a drone photography business?
The NAICS code for a drone photography business is 54192, which is classified under Commercial Photography.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.