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.
Costs to Start a Drone Photography Business
Here are the typical costs you will face when you start a drone photography business.
- Setting up a business name and corporation costs approximately $200.
- Business cards, brochures, postcards for marketing $200 – $300
- Website setup $100 –$200 for a basic, do-it-yourself website, $1,000 – $2,000 for a professional site.
- 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 +
- Initial marketing such as Facebook ads or search engine optimization for your website, $500 -$1,000
Steps to Opening a Drone Photography Business
Step 1: Write your 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.
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 a 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.
Related: Comparison of business entities
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.
In addition to the drone-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 common local, state, and federal registrations 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 business and personal finances in separate business bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the income and expenses of the 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 for aerial photography.
Step 9: Get Insurance
A drone photography business should consider several types of insurance for full coverage:
Drone insurance, which 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.
Costs for insurance policies will vary. 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: Hiring 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.
Related: Setting up accounting for your business
How Much Can You Potentially Make Owning a Drone Photography Business
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.
Things to Consider Before Starting a Drone Photography Business
Running a drone photography business or any business will have its challenges. You need to be prepared and make sure that you know what you’re getting into.
Acquiring customers and keeping those customers is key. You need to create awareness of your business and present yourself as a credible service provider. You’ll need to spend time and money on marketing and then do top-quality work to get repeat business and referrals.
You will also need to be knowledgeable about drone laws and follow those laws. Fines for violations can be considerable.
Talk to other business owners for tips on starting a business and do your homework to determine costs. Research other drone photography companies to see what they offer and their pricing.