As of March, 2020, there were nearly 172,000 licensed Commercial Drone Pilots in the U.S. That means to be effective, you have to somehow cut through all the online noise and worthless chaff to get your message out and in front of future clients. It’s not enough to have a drone and fly it well, you must also differentiate yourself; to stand out from the crowd. Make your mark and make it bold. Here are five ways to do just that.
Figure out what you do best
The old adage “Jack of all Trades, Master of None” is applicable to many areas, but none more so than with drones. Success comes as much from classroom training as it does from experience. And to be proficient at a professional level with a UAV, you’ll need both. While one drone may be capable of multiple tasks, your ability to become an expert at every one is not very likely. Focus on one or two areas, know them inside out, and partner with other pilots who are experts in areas that you aren’t specializing in. But, make sure you work out the rate and work details ahead of time and have any necessary non-compete and NDAs in place before a potential collaboration opportunity presents itself.
Focus on a single platform
Once you’ve decided where to concentrate your energy, it will be easier to narrow down your choice of platform. For instance, if you’re focused on construction and data gathering, you can get by with a less-complex platform with a smaller footprint and price point. On the other hand, something like aerial cinematography will probably require a jump into a more complex system with multiple payload capabilities and a two-person operation scenario. Extra batteries, lenses, filters, storage drives, discs and other peripherals are costly at every level and with every platform, but are exponentially so as the system complexity increases. Start by examining your target client and working backwards from there. For instance, real estate requires a less complex system than the one that you’d need for feature films. Look at your business plan (draw one up if you don’t already have it), and align your platform to match its goals.
One of the easiest things to do when starting out is charging too little for your services. When I first started out and wasn’t very busy, I underpriced myself and didn’t account for processing time and editing. The problem was, when I started getting busy, I wasn’t. able to continue the level of service at the rate I was charging. I raised my rates after a client mentioned that I was way below other bids he got for the job I won. Take a look at your costs and make sure you include things like equipment, insurance, transportation, software, processing time after the mission, and other less-conspicuous items such as the time and effort it takes to apply for airspace access that isn’t filed through LAANC. Your rate as PIC should be at a level where you could pay someone else to do it if you had conflicts or otherwise couldn’t fly. Charging more is also a strategy some use to differentiate themselves from others. They believe clients view them as more valuable and higher-skilled because they charge more. You can decide if that works for you.
With nearly 200,000 Commercial Drone Pilots in the U.S. alone, you’ve got lots of competition. It’s not enough to know how to fly and how to fly well. You’ve got to add value. This means providing the “extras” that others don’t have. For us at MAD, it’s obtaining prohibited and restricted airspace flight authorization-especially in the Washington, DC Flight Restricted Zone or “DC-FRZ”. We’ve been flying it for a number of years and know the ins and outs of navigating the application process (which is not LAANC enabled). Other ways to add value include bringing expertise to the table that others don’t have such as additional certified training, experience in extreme flight conditions, or a non-drone background in thermography, Search and Rescue (SAR) or GIS and surveying. Whatever it is, play it up and make sure the client understands its value to them.
Finally, be willing to help others. Use your expertise to help those who have questions that you can answer. Start a blog, record a podcast series, write articles for Drone publications. Volunteer your time and drone skills to help non-profits or worthy causes. These organizations will help get your name and work out there for others to know and see, which will hopefully lead to that next job or client.
Oh yeah-you’ll also be helping make the world a better place. And isn’t that a big part of what it’s all about?
Keeping these tips in mind when starting your drone business will help you distinguish yourself from the competition in the crowded world of commercial drone services.
Mike Sobola is a Washington-DC Area Commercial Drone Pilot who has logged more than 1,000 hours as pilot in command of a drone. He is also a Private Pilot for single-engine manned aircraft for fun. He is Managing Partner with Luisa Winters at Mid-Atlantic Drones which specializes in Construction Aerial Imaging with drones and flights in the DC Flight Restricted Zone or “DC-FRZ”.