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Drone photography involves the taking of photos or videos by an autonomous UAV or one controlled by a person who manually operates it via remote control. Commercial drone photography plays a role across a wide range of industries including real estate, farming, films, advertising, and much more.
Who is this business right for?
A drone photography business is a wonderful opportunity for anyone who wants to make good money by combining their love of photography or videography along with their passion for flying. There is a high technical barrier to the business, so it is critical that potential business owners are dedicated to achieving a high degree of technical fluency. A drone photography business usually requires a lot of traveling to clients, so you will need to be comfortable with possible overnight travel.
What happens during a typical day at a drone photography business?
A drone business owner spends most of the time running the back-end of the company. This involves marketing, speaking with potential clients and current clients, securing permission for flights, filing paperwork, and handling the billing. Only a small percentage of work time is dedicated to operating a drone and editing photographs or video footage.
What is the target market?
Real estate agents, people who are selling a piece of property or a boat, advertising companies, and even local athletes are all potential clients. Your ideal client is anyone who wants to showcase something in a spectacularly unique way using aerial photography or videography.
How does a drone photography business make money?
A drone photography business can choose the best type of pricing policies to fit their clients. Some drone photography businesses charge their clients a set price for a complete package which includes everything from shooting to editing. Other businesses choose to charge an hourly rate for the shoot and a separate editing fee. A few drone photography businesses choose to provide only the raw footage to their clients.
What is the growth potential for a drone photography business?
The growth potential is huge. There are currently only around 3000 certified commercial drone pilots in the United States, yet the popularity of aerial photography continues to grow. With the high level of technical knowledge required to enter into this field, the opportunities for work will continue to outpace the availability of licensed drone pilots to accept the work.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful drone photography business?
Since August 29, 2016, in order to legally fly a commercial drone in the US, a pilot needs to have a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. This requires passing the FAA Part 107 Aeronautical Knowledge Test with a 70% or better. In addition to possessing a Remote Pilot Certificate, a background in photography, videography, and editing is essential. Just like any other business, having knowledge about marketing and back-office procedures is important.
What are the costs involved in opening a drone photography business?
There are many costs associated with opening a drone photography business. Besides the normal costs of starting any type of business, there are several unique costs for anyone thinking about a drone photography business:
- UAVs. The biggest cost by far will be your drones. While it is possible to purchase hobby-type drones for below $1000, commercial-quality UAVs can cost more than $10,000. It is very likely you will need more than one drone.
- Computer and software. Depending on whether you intend to shoot photographs, videos, or both, you will need the right editing software. Most drones come with their own software packages, but many aerial photographers prefer Adobe Photoshop for stills and Adobe Premier Pro for videos. Both programs are available on a subscription basis for around $50 a month. Of course, you will need a computer to run the editing software. If you do not already have a suitable computer, expect to spend around $1500.
- Certification. If you don't already have a Remote Pilot Certificate, you will need to get one. The testing fee is $150, but unless you already have a solid understanding of airspace regulations and aeronautical knowledge, you will probably want to take a prep course. There are many online and in person prep courses available ranging from less than a $100 for a basic online course to well over $1000 for in-person instruction.
- Website and hosting. A good website is critical for marketing your business. Consider a professionally designed site costing up to $1000. Hosting expenses are minimal.
- Insurance. Insurance is critical to protect your expensive equipment and your business from litigation. Insurance costs vary depending on the level of protection that you desire.
- Transportation. You will need reliable transportation which provide enough space to transport your drones. Transportation costs vary.
What are the steps to start a drone photography business?
Once you're ready to start your drone photography business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your drone photography business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your drone photography business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Get your first domain for only $0.99 with GoDaddy.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a drone photography business?
Invest in the best training and equipment you can afford to help you stand out from your competitors. Your clients will expect high-quality results, so you better have the technology and skills to deliver it to them. Choose a single niche, like real estate photography or extreme sport videography to allow yourself to focus your equipment and marketing budgets on a single market segment to reduce costs. Always deliver better and faster than you promised.
How to promote & market a drone photography business
Your own website is your best marketing tool, but think about advertising through third-party sites like Amazon Services or ThumbTack.com or even specialized site such as HiFlyPhotography.com. You may want contact potential clients within your niche through direct mail.
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How to keep customers coming back
Concentrating on marketing in your local area and providing better than expected service to your clients will create a buzz for your business. A social media page consisting of fascinating pictures that your drones have taken and your business has edited is a great way to catch the eyes and interest of potential clients.
How and when to build a team
A team can help you complete the different duties of a drone photography business while letting you focus on the parts of the business which best suit you. For example, if you are most interested in taking the photos, but you are not confident in your post-production editing, you may want hire an expert or outsource your editing to a professional. You should build the rest of your team slowly, as needed.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a drone photography business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Drone photography businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a service agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example service agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your drone photography business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
Certificate of Occupancy
A drone photography business can be operated out of a physical location. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a drone photography business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your drone photography business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
You fees should reflect the valuable service you provide. Drone photography businesses usually charge between $150 - $450 per hour of shooting and around $100 per hour of editing. Package deals typically start around $500 and increase depending on the services desired by the client.
What are the ongoing expenses for a drone photography business?
Maintaining, repairing, and updating drones and software is the largest ongoing expense for those who work out of their homes. If your drone photography business operates out of a building or studio, you will also have to consider the costs of rent and office maintenance as ongoing expenses. Whether or not you have employees can also increase the expenses of your business.
How much profit can a drone photography business make?
The Drone Training HQ suggests the average salary for a drone photography business is from $50,000 - $60,000 a year with some pilots making much more.
How can you make your business more profitable?
There are may additional ways to earn money with your drones. Aerial mapping and aerial inspections are two great ways to generate more money. In addition, there are opportunities to be had in local media and even search and rescue.