Making Money with your Drone in Construction: Finding Clients

In my last article, we talked about what you’ll need to start making money with your drone in construction.  With that out of the way, you’ll need a few clients to help pay for all that gear.  Here’s a few tips to set you on your way.

Making Money with your Drone in Construction: Finding Clients
Learn the Lingo of Construction

Talk the talk

Before you start knocking on doors, make sure you know the lingo and understand the business.  Understand what you can do for your customer and be prepared to show them when they ask “What’s in it for me?”.  But, do it in their language.  If you start talking about accuracy but don’t have any idea what they mean by “Benchmarks” or “Control Points”, you’ll be shown the door in short order.

How do you get your drone to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice.  Don’t just sit around because you don’t have a paying gig.  Get out and fly!  Find existing spots and map them.  Houses, structures, landscape—just don’t fly over an active construction site without prior permission.  Practice different settings and grids.  Check out different software and drones.  Develop SOPs for different job scenarios so when you do get the job, you’ve already thought about how to fly it quickly and accurately.  Choose a flight and processing software and stick with it.  There are pros and cons for each.  Find the one you like that works for what you want to do and learn it inside out.

Stand Out From the Crowd

Stand out from the crowd.

With any aerial drone service, like it or not, you’re starting at the bottom.  You’re like a new actor with a headshot and the leading role in your college play-there’s a thousand of you out there.  Find what makes you different.  For us, we realized early on that we were one of the first to get permission to fly in the DC-FRZ with a drone and that many pilots were still not getting the clearance to fly there.  So, we decided to concentrate on restricted, controlled and prohibited airspace.  It’s worked out well.  Aerial drone photography and aerial video service providers are a dime a dozen,  make sure you stand out from the crowd.

Finding Clients can be a Catch-22

Even with a differentiation, you can’t get work without experience, but you can’t get experience without work.  So what do you do?  Try partnering with smaller firms and offer pre-bid packages in return for being included in the post-bid plan when they win the job.   Pre-bid work is money right out of the pockets of a construction firm which means that If they don’t get the contract, the time, money and effort spent on the bid is down the drain. They’ll be appreciative of your willingness to partner with them and you’ll make them more competitive by helping to increase their bid accuracy with your data and images.  Just make sure you get it in writing.

Making Money with your Drone in Construction: Finding Clients
be honest about your capabilities

Be honest about your capabilities.

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching clients on your own, find established drone providers and offer your services as Visual Observer.  Ask questions and be willing to learn.  When they need a pilot in the future, you’re a known quantity who has hopefully already proven yourself.   You’ll get the job–and experience.

Making Money with your Drone in Construction: Finding Clients
Look for the right people

If you do decide to make cold calls, look for titles like “Virtual Design Director” or “Digital Asset Manager”. When you’re visiting job sites, the Project Manager or Superintendent would be the ones to talk with.   But, be forewarned-they are busy and chances are, they won’t be in the trailer.  All sites have contact names, titles and numbers posted on the job trailers.  Take a quick picture and send them a note later.  When you do get in the door, have something to show.  Demonstrate what you can do and how it will help them. Incentivize: offer discounts for long-term contracts and multiple sites. Remember-they’re not going to hire you because it’s cool.  If you’re not helping them, you’re not necessary.

Making Money with your Drone in Construction: Finding Clients
Show them what you can provide

Show them the data you can provide, why it’s relevant to them and how you can deliver it faster, cheaper and better than current methods, and you’ll have a good chance of getting the business.

In my next article, I’ll talk about what basic services every construction drone pilot should offer, what to charge, and how to be prepared for “the random ask”.

Cinematography still counts.