Real, legit, paying your bills, drone business

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#1
Hello,

I was curious how many on here had a thriving drone business that was their main (only) source of income. I'm sure there are a lot of people who do it on the side, but I was wondering if a drone business was anyone's bread and butter. And if so, what area do you specialize in? Feel free to post links to your site etc.

Thanks and congrats to everyone who is making money flying drones.
 
Likes: sidu
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#2
I'm a UK (PfCO) drone flier - I took it because I believe it adds to my existing work (web & photography) but I'd find it hard to believe that the 4000+ PfCO pilots in the UK are all feeding/clothing/housing themselves from drone work. It's great to hear of people earning £800+expenses per day but I'd guess they are the exception. Even if I droned full time I'd make less than my day job and I'd be travelling around way too much.

On the PfCO course, I heard that 40% of PfCO pilots do not renew permissions after the first year, which is revealing.

Also, the toxic combination of increasing legislation and public negativity about drones is not an environment that I'd chose to attempt a business development.

In the UK specifically there are many people operating drones quasi-recreationally who aren't PfCO (it's easy to do this because the CAA don't actively police and the police have too much real stuff to deal with), so you're also up against a 'race to the bottom' on rates.

Things might change - I'm personally glad I did my PfCO but I can't see it leading to my early retirement :)
 
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#3
Yes, there's a very revealing video on youtube about the truth of drone business.
I'm too lazy to put a link, but I'm sure you could find it.
He describes a friend that bought all the best stuff, dumping thousands of dollars, to start a business.
That was a mistake.
He describes the ins and outs if business, and how it really is not a good gamble.
What stuck with me is, he stated, if you can't come up with at least 100 clients, you probably won't succeed.
But for me, I live alone, except for my dog, everything is paid off, low overhead, cash in the bank to live on.
I still haven't come near to breaking even, but I'm having a ball, filming concerts, real estate, magazine cover, etc.
It's still growing. I'm not ready to claim "mission accomplished" yet, but I realize that you get what you put in and I have a lot of work to do to even make a run for the top.
I make a goal to do something productive, about 6 days a week.
Wether it be process pics and video for clients or myself, or get on the phone and make contacts, send emails.
I recently saw a flier for a country music festival. Met with the promoter, showed my work, etc.
I was highered right away including passes for my friends, the best camping spot for my toy hauler, and it always leads to more gigs, with bands taking a keen interest in my methods and taking a business card and discussing future events.
I love that flying leads to more flying, but you really have to work hard to make anything work, especially this work.
Many nights I do marathon post processing, going well into the wee hours of morning.
So, any advice I could give is, get out there and be seen A LOT!
Don't lowball your services, no matter how bad you want it. It's bad for everybody.
Knock on new doors, touch bases with old, nearly every single day.
Get creative with services offered, find a nich, maybe something unique to your area.
I live on the California Delta where properties in the hundreds and thousands of acres are the norm, and the best way to display them is with creative photo skills and altitude. Here's one I did for a local realtor. They didn't want music or graphics, so this is what they got.
I never clained to be an expert at anything, but every time it gets better and better, and I'm still learning every day.
Thanks for sitting through my boring speach.
 
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#4
I'm a UK (PfCO) drone flier - I took it because I believe it adds to my existing work (web & photography) but I'd find it hard to believe that the 4000+ PfCO pilots in the UK are all feeding/clothing/housing themselves from drone work. It's great to hear of people earning £800+expenses per day but I'd guess they are the exception. Even if I droned full time I'd make less than my day job and I'd be travelling around way too much.

On the PfCO course, I heard that 40% of PfCO pilots do not renew permissions after the first year, which is revealing.

Also, the toxic combination of increasing legislation and public negativity about drones is not an environment that I'd chose to attempt a business development.

In the UK specifically there are many people operating drones quasi-recreationally who aren't PfCO (it's easy to do this because the CAA don't actively police and the police have too much real stuff to deal with), so you're also up against a 'race to the bottom' on rates.

Things might change - I'm personally glad I did my PfCO but I can't see it leading to my early retirement :)
Thanks for the detailed answer.
 
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#5
Yes, there's a very revealing video on youtube about the truth of drone business.
I'm too lazy to put a link, but I'm sure you could find it.
He describes a friend that bought all the best stuff, dumping thousands of dollars, to start a business.
That was a mistake.
He describes the ins and outs if business, and how it really is not a good gamble.
What stuck with me is, he stated, if you can't come up with at least 100 clients, you probably won't succeed.
But for me, I live alone, except for my dog, everything is paid off, low overhead, cash in the bank to live on.
I still haven't come near to breaking even, but I'm having a ball, filming concerts, real estate, magazine cover, etc.
It's still growing. I'm not ready to claim "mission accomplished" yet, but I realize that you get what you put in and I have a lot of work to do to even make a run for the top.
I make a goal to do something productive, about 6 days a week.
Wether it be process pics and video for clients or myself, or get on the phone and make contacts, send emails.
I recently saw a flier for a country music festival. Met with the promoter, showed my work, etc.
I was highered right away including passes for my friends, the best camping spot for my toy hauler, and it always leads to more gigs, with bands taking a keen interest in my methods and taking a business card and discussing future events.
I love that flying leads to more flying, but you really have to work hard to make anything work, especially this work.
Many nights I do marathon post processing, going well into the wee hours of morning.
So, any advice I could give is, get out there and be seen A LOT!
Don't lowball your services, no matter how bad you want it. It's bad for everybody.
Knock on new doors, touch bases with old, nearly every single day.
Get creative with services offered, find a nich, maybe something unique to your area.
I live on the California Delta where properties in the hundreds and thousands of acres are the norm, and the best way to display them is with creative photo skills and altitude. Here's one I did for a local realtor. They didn't want music or graphics, so this is what they got.
I never clained to be an expert at anything, but every time it gets better and better, and I'm still learning every day.
Thanks for sitting through my boring speach.
Thanks for the great reply. Sounds like you have things moving in the right direction. I agree with you about the niche approach (niches make riches!)
 
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#6
I'm at about the one year mark. I didn't go at it to be a full time job as I have a full time job already, more to offset my hobby expenses. I've had to turn down a lot of work because I don't have the time during the week but I don't think I could have come close to being able to support myself with my drones. I plan on retiring next year and plan on keep flying and making any money I can. It has paid for all my drones I've bought over the last year which is a plus.
 
Likes: Lefty63
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#7
Good thread idea, I'm keen to hear from those who are making a good living out of it. But have to agree with this....starting to ramp up and getting crazier:

Also, the toxic combination of increasing legislation and public negativity about drones is not an environment that I'd chose to attempt a business development.
non-commercial pilot numbers are increasing rather fast around the globe; and given no official licenses (at least in my country) are required to fly commercially (that is, to make money for a flight job), the competition will only grow.

On a side note, a national news program in my country (gutter reporting in my eyes) aired an overly-negative 5 minute story on the "peeping toms" of the drone industry and portrayed this being the main purpose for drones in the neighbourhood....In fact, I believe the opening line from the presenter before they through the story was "They used to be a WEAPON OF WAR...now drones are in EVERY department store" - so yeah, the publicity and the goons out there who fly against the rules will slowly but surely ruin it for the rest.

RoOSTA
 
Likes: BigAl07
Joined
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#8
Yes, there's a very revealing video on youtube about the truth of drone business.
I'm too lazy to put a link, but I'm sure you could find it.
He describes a friend that bought all the best stuff, dumping thousands of dollars, to start a business.
That was a mistake.
He describes the ins and outs if business, and how it really is not a good gamble.
What stuck with me is, he stated, if you can't come up with at least 100 clients, you probably won't succeed.
But for me, I live alone, except for my dog, everything is paid off, low overhead, cash in the bank to live on.
I still haven't come near to breaking even, but I'm having a ball, filming concerts, real estate, magazine cover, etc.
It's still growing. I'm not ready to claim "mission accomplished" yet, but I realize that you get what you put in and I have a lot of work to do to even make a run for the top.
I make a goal to do something productive, about 6 days a week.
Wether it be process pics and video for clients or myself, or get on the phone and make contacts, send emails.
I recently saw a flier for a country music festival. Met with the promoter, showed my work, etc.
I was highered right away including passes for my friends, the best camping spot for my toy hauler, and it always leads to more gigs, with bands taking a keen interest in my methods and taking a business card and discussing future events.
I love that flying leads to more flying, but you really have to work hard to make anything work, especially this work.
Many nights I do marathon post processing, going well into the wee hours of morning.
So, any advice I could give is, get out there and be seen A LOT!
Don't lowball your services, no matter how bad you want it. It's bad for everybody.
Knock on new doors, touch bases with old, nearly every single day.
Get creative with services offered, find a nich, maybe something unique to your area.
I live on the California Delta where properties in the hundreds and thousands of acres are the norm, and the best way to display them is with creative photo skills and altitude. Here's one I did for a local realtor. They didn't want music or graphics, so this is what they got.
I never clained to be an expert at anything, but every time it gets better and better, and I'm still learning every day.
Thanks for sitting through my boring speach.
What were you able to charge for this? And was the post production separate or included?
 
Joined
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#9
Super Dave,
Congratulations! If you're not in your opinion "living the dream" you're **** near there. I'm just starting a business which will definitely be a side thing until I can retire. I'm in New Hampshire, so unless you really take off, we won't be in competition ;) Would you mind answering a few questions if I PM you?
 
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#10
Drones were still the purview of the military when I was last working, man I could have made great use out of them at work! Super Dave's post reminded me of all the concerts I worked at, setting up microwave and laser links to beam CCTV video back to the police/security command posts at events and concerts. In 2001 I would charge £600 per day plus expenses ($904 in todays money) for myself and £400 per day + expenses if it was any of my team that were going to be used. I retired in 2005 and at that point I had many imitators stepping into my field of work, even the police were getting into the mobile CCTV surveillance and the company I worked for bought out a specialist vehicle builder to cater for that market. I am still in touch with one of the lads that used to work for me and he is still doing the same job but with a different company.

Man, I miss the job, I miss the people I worked with, both supplier and client, I don't miss the long hours and long distance traveling and I am happy to have settled down, at least I get to play with drones as a hobby now :D
 
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#11
I like to barter with my drone. When I see something expensive I want to buy I will offer my services to take an aerial photo of the company or create video for their website. If they bite, I'll offer them my services in exchange for buying his product I want for 30 to 50% off his invoice cost, which is more than half off MSRP. I show no income that way for tax purposes, under the counter deal. Some of those deals have evolved into other cash deals through referrals. I don't advertise because I do this part time. But my long term plan is retiring in a couple years from my real job and travel the country by RV, doing the same thing, bartering for free campsites, Hah!
 
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#12
What were you able to charge for this? And was the post production separate or included?
Sorry for the late response, but I don't hang around here as much as I should anymore.
But to answer your question, I always under promise, and over deliver.
My rates may be relatively cheap for the overall industry, but by no means am I lowballing.
I start at $75/hr, one hour minimum and the clock starts the minute I get in my car.
I include an estimate for post process time also, as nobody likes surprise costs.
It comes out to around $75-$100 for each photo and each minute of processed video, and that's a local job with minimum travel costs.
But, as usual, you always take dozens of photos to get a few good ones, all at 5 layer bracketing, so I'll just throw in a couple of freebies of shots that I like, cuz once you start processing, it's hard to stop and you end up with lots of good pics.
Prices will rise with the cost of the property also, as the last property in the million dollar range costed them $600 for 3 good pics and one minute video.
Of course it's very difficult to show your skills with that kind of restraint, so they got a little more material than asked for, and that's the over deliver part I mentioned, and people just love free stuff.
Matter of fact, that's a great way to get your foot in the door is to send them one or two good free pics that they can use.
If they're impressed, you'll hear from them again.
Whatever you do, DO NOT BE THIS GUY -->
This is painful to watch. It's jerky, too high, no revealing or cinamatography techniques, no colors or processing, I can actually see the "pilot" standing in the street.
Try to be more like this guy:
Revealing shots, showing the flavor of the area, some cinematography techniques, etc.....oh yeah, this is mine too, and I always hate every single one of them and strive to do better. Don't ask why they don't want music, I don't know, it would add so much more at very little extra expense.
 
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#13
Super Dave,
Congratulations! If you're not in your opinion "living the dream" you're **** near there. I'm just starting a business which will definitely be a side thing until I can retire. I'm in New Hampshire, so unless you really take off, we won't be in competition ;) Would you mind answering a few questions if I PM you?
Sorry for the late reply, but I will gladly answer any questions you may have.
Again, I don't claim to be an expert at anything (except bass fishing!), but I'll try to fill in they blanks for you.
 
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#14
You are, more often than not, going to find people are not honest when they say they're flying drones full time and making a good living at it. This industry is full of BS artists and egotistical personalities that think very highly of themselves. The reality is the only the top percentage of operators are making great money at this (and those $$$ are decreasing every quarter.) Yes, niche flying in high end mapping such as IR/Lidar systems seem to continue to be doing well, but many corporations that employ this expensive service are bringing it in-house vs. paying subs huge dollars. The barrier to entry in equipment investments and knowledge skillsets are what made this particular field high end.
To me, the aerial camera system is just another tool in the kit as a full time videographer/photog. I just happen to use these camera on a very frequent basis. I fly for my local NBC affiliate, numerous clients, recently flown for a Discovery channel production crew, PBS... the list goes on. But I still dont think of myself as a full time drone operator.
 
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#15
Probably true.
I never claim to be more than I'm not.
I always hate my end product and will probably hate it more when I look back after time.
I tried the art route. Got some interest in galleries, managed to get some pieces displayed in a photo show.
Sales were way worse than expected, but I knew in advance what reality was like, so expectations were low.
This gave me a chance too look at the established photogs, the ones with all the little "sold" stickers on them.
Many were obvious they had a truly unique way of seeing and processing images.
Others, from the same artists, looked like a shot on my farm. So I think reputation has a huge influence on interest.
So, I hope the above post doesn't lump me in with the bullshiiters, but then again, I am a fisherman, so that's expected.
You can spot the BS'rs when they spout they're grandious achievements with news and television jobs (wink wink, I'm just kiddin ya).
Actually, most would like to hear your story, from school, to getting your feet wet in production, to where you are today.
We don't know if you consider yourself a freelance photog, or journalist.
I also realized that just aerials is not enough and limits my potential.
So I've aquired some obsolete grounded equipment, and started cramming my knowledge base to learn this stuff, and will start incorporating the missing pieces.
I highly suggest that flyers with commercial interests start catch up on Peter McKinnon instructionals on youtube.
He covers everything from technique, to the business aspect.
But don't just stop there. That's just one source.
Now if you'll excuse me, I covered a small sold out concert last week, which lead to another meeting with a winery owner today, that wants a video for the winery, and the band manager wants to meet again when they get back from tour.
Get out there, knock some doors down and get noticed....and that's no BS!
 
Joined
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#16
I like to barter with my drone. When I see something expensive I want to buy I will offer my services to take an aerial photo of the company or create video for their website. If they bite, I'll offer them my services in exchange for buying his product I want for 30 to 50% off his invoice cost, which is more than half off MSRP. I show no income that way for tax purposes, under the counter deal. Some of those deals have evolved into other cash deals through referrals. I don't advertise because I do this part time. But my long term plan is retiring in a couple years from my real job and travel the country by RV, doing the same thing, bartering for free campsites, Hah!
I really think you should consult a good tax professional.
 
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#18
...oh, and the meeting with the winery owner this morning had to be rescheduled to Thursday.
So I was driving down the winding river road, looking for photo ops.
Sometimes I'll catch a giant tugboat or yacht.
Perhaps a waterskier or kids getting dragged on a tube.
Today I came across a food and wine festival...opportunity!
Stopped, grabbed a couple cards and phone.
Strolled around, found a winery booth with a couple aerials of the winery.
They were not great, not much processing, edges were damaged.
So I was directed to the owner, handed him a card and we walked over to his pics.
He was almost onboard before I could finish and was somewhat desperate, because harvesting starts Thursday, and they must be done before then.
He would have bought right then, but I wanted to make his decision comfortable.
I told him, I will always under promise and over deliver, guarenteed, or no charge (no pics either).
I had some prints in the car for other clients. One on metal, one on giclee on canvas.
He loved the giclee and asked if I could get three shots before harvest.
Let me check my calender (not much).
Hey, you're in luck. Two hours travel, three processed files=$500, done deal.
And if he wants the foot work of getting the prints done and mailed, add $400-$500 (he will, it's harvest season).
So now, I'm emailing him a checklist and contract, to make sure we're on the same page.
I could have hit dozens of others, but who wants to work that hard?
As I've said before, get out, get noticed, get comfortable with an outward attitude that feels like an old friend, and don't be afraid of rejection.
This guy said he had two wives die before he married his current wife.
He then leaned in and quietly said, "I had a doctor check this one before we got married".
I chuckled and put my hand on his shoulder.
Said I'll send over the paperwork and it WILL get done.
 
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#19
Can a hobby flyer donate his work that maybe used commercially? I want to get credit for the work but if doing so get me in trouble, then they can use it without my name.
 
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#20
I know of two main genuine income streams capable of generating sufficiently high and consistent amounts of finance.

Aerial filming for companies producing cinematic films or TV programmes. You would need to be a highly capable pilot with proven professional filming skills.

Survey work with sufficient contacts to generate constant work within a sensible geographical area. Time is money, so excessive travelling is usually a non-starter.

Stills photography is unlikely to count, as a drone would merely be an add-on to existing ground-based work - and only accounting for a minor percentage of overall income.

I’ve been in business for 40 years. Most claimed “drone businesses” are part-time (at best, if you relax the meaning of “business”) with the exception of the above examples.
 
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