Drones are tons of fun to operate, but they’re definitely not just toys. Weather monitoring, telecommunications, and aerial imaging are just a few of the ways drones are used professionally. At the end of 2021, there were more than 526,000 recreational drones and about 334,000 commercial drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Owning a drone presents a number of business opportunities. As with the best side hustles, these opportunities allow you to be your own boss and make your own hours. If you’re diligent, you might find that you’re able to bring in extra income without much overhead or time commitment.
To start your own drone business, you’ll need to have a drone equipped with a camera and the ability to fly. You’ll also need to understand how to fly the drone and take drone photos & videos.
To sell your drone services commercially you’ll need to become a certified drone pilot and finally, you’ll need to find customers willing to pay for your services.
One of the best ways to find customers is to join a drone-based business directory such as Drone Services. This will give you access to a huge drone market and many customers looking for drone-based services.
Another great way to find customers is through online platforms. You can create a profile and pitch your drone services to potential clients here. Once you’ve found a few customers, you can start charging for your services. For example, you could charge an hourly rate for drone photography or videography, or a flat fee for specific services such as event coverage or property inspections.
Making money with drones can be a great way to earn extra income. However, it’s crucial to ensure that you understand the laws and regulations surrounding drones before you start flying.
Here’s what you need to know about how to make money as a drone videographer.
1. Real estate photos and video
Standard photography is fairly limited when it comes to selling property. With a drone, you can get sweeping views of a commercial or residential building’s exterior, highlight cathedral ceilings and expansive foyers, or shoot a smooth video flyover of the whole property. According to multiple listing service (MLS) real estate database statistics, listings with aerial photos typically sell 68% faster.
As a freelance drone operator, you can connect with real estate agents hoping to beef up their listings with beautiful imagery. In addition to your drone, you’ll also need some basic know-how of photo and video editing software so you can edit your drone footage.
2. Hotel and resort ads
Standard photography doesn’t always do justice to the location or the views at a hotel, resort, or casino. Marketing teams in the hospitality industry often look to aerial photography to showcase properties. Unless they have an in-house photographer, they need to outsource the photos to a drone operator like you.
As with real estate photography, you’ll need photo and video editing software to compile your aerial footage. You should also create a portfolio website and manage social media accounts to get the word out.
3. Wedding photos and video
Drone photography is becoming more popular at weddings, with photographers reporting increasingly common requests for aerial video. A drone can emphasize the beauty of the location at destination weddings in one seamless shot in ways a videographer can’t.
You can either network with clients directly or reach out to local wedding photography businesses and ask about partnering with them. To find newlyweds looking for aerial wedding photography, consider using a freelance platform like Thumbtack to get leads.
4. Structural or building inspection
Drones provide a safer and more cost-effective way to inspect an asset and identify what repairs are needed. For example, a drone can more easily inspect the inside of a large chimney or reach the top of a cell phone tower than a human being. Several industries require inspections and could benefit from the use of a drone. These can include construction sites, utility towers, and nuclear power plants.
To get started, consider reaching out to local home inspectors for opportunities in your area. Inspectors sometimes work with freelance drone pilots to perform overhead roof inspections. You can also get certified as a home inspector yourself and add drone inspection jobs as part of your services.
5. Selling stock photos or videos
Many of the photos you see on the internet are stock photos, including on this page. Companies often pay for access to stock photography to use in marketing, instructional, or other online or print materials.
To meet this need, there are a variety of websites that buy stock photos and videos from individual photographers. Most pay a commission to the photographer when the photo or video is sold. Rates typically differ for exclusive photos and non-exclusive photos, but this can make for a nice way to earn passive income.
Here are a few sites where you could sell your drone photos or video:
- Alamy: Up to 50% commission
- 500px: Up to 60% commission
- SmugMug: Set your own prices
- Stocksy: Up to 75% commission (exclusive photos only)
- Twenty20: 50% commission plus challenge bonuses
6. Drone deliveries
Many businesses need to quickly and efficiently deliver packages. Drones can deliver faster, cheaper, and with less pollution than commercial vehicles. Amazon has already rolled out the Prime Air system to deliver packages under 5 pounds to customers in just 30 minutes.
Although most companies use their own drones and hire pilots, there may be opportunities for freelance work with startups or nonprofits on websites like Upwork.
If you have a story to tell, follow your heart and make art with your drone. It may not be an immediate path to extra cash, but if you create something special, you can enter it in a drone festival and potentially win big prizes.
For example, the Boston Drone Film Festival offers winners a backpack full of gear and a seven-day grand prize trip. If submitting to festivals doesn’t pan out, you can also win cash prizes or ask for tips on AirVuz, which is essentially YouTube for drone artists.
8. Search and rescue training
If you want to get involved in search and rescue, understand that it won’t be part of an official investigation. Instead, you’ll pilot your drone after the investigation is complete. For example, the company SWARM offers missing person and animal searches through a network of volunteer pilots. Most similar positions are unpaid, but nonprofit organizations need group training instructors to get volunteers up to speed.
To get started, research local search and rescue associations in your area. In addition to instructional skills, you may need specialized equipment, such as a thermal camera.
9. Precision agriculture
Precision agriculture is the process farmers used to monitor and react to changes in their crops. Drones are being used to assess areas of farmland to determine where to plant seeds, help farmers decide where to replant and prune, and where to apply fertilizer.
The efficiency that results doesn’t just save money, it also saves the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports high confidence that sustainable land management can mitigate the effects of climate change on society and ecosystems. If you live near a rural area, offering your services to farmers could be a way to make a huge impact on the environment while bringing in some extra cash.
10. Aerial mapping
Drones can be used to survey large areas of land for construction and infrastructure planning purposes. You can build 3D maps, thermal maps, and more with the images taken during a drone survey. A search for aerial surveying jobs in your area may reveal some opportunities. You may also want to add a listing for your services on a site like DronePilotsCentral or another similar platform.
Remember that aerial mapping is a technically difficult job, so you may also need to seek training. Many companies, such as Pilot Institute, offer online classes and training programs for drone pilots. You’ll also need a special drone mapping software package for this work.
As you can see, there are numerous methods to use drones for financial gain. With this fantastic and engaging business strategy, the possibilities are endless. Why not start your drone business right away if you’re considering doing so? The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll start to profit!
Here are some pointers to get you started using your drone to earn money.
Research the market well
Before you start making money with a drone, you must research the market well. To start with you’ll need to find a niche market. This could involve anything from aerial photography to real estate surveying. Doing your research and finding a market that is willing to pay for your services is essential. It’s also important to ensure that there is enough demand in your chosen market to make a profit.
Then you’ll need to identify potential customers and understand their needs. This will help you determine your services and how much you can charge for them. It is also important to research the competition to ensure you’re offering competitive prices.
Invest in a good quality drone
To make money with drones, you’ll need the right equipment. A good quality drone can take high-quality photos and videos, which is what you’ll need to sell your services. It’s also important to ensure that your drone is durable and can withstand crashes since you’ll likely have a few while learning to fly it.
To legally make money with your drone, you must obtain the proper certification. Depending on what services you plan on offering, you may need to get certified to operate your drone commercially. This process can be time-consuming and expensive, but it is essential to avoid legal trouble.
This process is relatively easy, but it is important to follow all the steps correctly.
Create a professional portfolio
To attract customers, you need to have a strong portfolio showcasing your work. Make sure to include high-quality images and videos that show off your drone skills. You can also create a website or blog to showcase your portfolio and attract more customers.
It’s also recommended to create social media accounts and post regular updates to show potential customers what you can do.
Once you have your drone and certification, you’ll need to start finding your ideal clients. This can be done by marketing yourself online or through word-of-mouth. You can also look for clients through drone-specific platforms.
Freelancing sites such as Upwork or Fiverr are also a great place to showcase your work and bid for jobs.
Once you have a client, you’ll need to negotiate a price for your services. This will vary depending on the type of service you’re providing and the client’s budget. One of the most important aspects of making money with your drone is to charge appropriately for your services. This means doing your research to find out what similar services are being offered and then pricing your own services accordingly.
You should consider many factors when setting your prices, such as the time involved, the difficulty of the job, and any special equipment that might be required. Remember that you’ll also need to factor in the costs of operating your drones, such as maintenance, batteries, and insurance.
It’s important to be upfront about your costs so that there are no surprises for the client later on.
After you’ve completed the job, you’ll need to get paid for your services. This can be done via an online banking app such as Wise, through Upwork’s escrow service, direct bank transfer, even Bitcoin. Whatever works for you.
Ensure you have all the necessary information from the client before starting the job so everything runs smoothly and there are no payment hiccups later.
The total cost to break into the drone market can vary based on the type of equipment you need. For example, you might not need to purchase the very best drone just to get started. But here are some general price ranges for things you might need:
- New drone: $500 to $20,000
- Computer: $500 to $1,500 for a computer for editing your footage.
- Software: $99 to $299 for drone mapping software or photo editing software.
- Drone insurance: $500 to $750 per year.
- Remote Pilot Certificate: The FAA requires this license to operate drones weighing under 55 pounds. The FAA Part 107 exam for the license will set you back $175.
- Business license: A few dollars to several hundred dollars.
- Marketing: $0 to $200 per week. Although networking and referrals are free, advertising costs money.
- Other equipment: You may also need additional equipment (such as thermal cameras or 3D imaging software) for your drone, depending on your industry.
Think about the people or businesses that would be most likely to need your services. For example, you might network with realtors or home inspectors for aerial photography. If you don’t mind having a boss, there are also drone service companies all over the country that may be willing to hire and train you. You can also check drone job boards like Zeitview (former DroneBase) JSfirm, and HireUAVPro for people looking to hire UAV pilots.