How to start a drone business (or side hustle)

Written by
Brooke Hahn
July 22, 2022

While most of us have full-time jobs or some iteration thereof, an increasing number of people are supplementing their regular income with a little something extra. I.e. a side hustle. A side hustle could be a passion or hobby that makes you a few extra dollars on the side, or it could be a full-blown additional venture that requires the majority of your time outside of your regular job.

There are any number of side hustles that can make you additional income: from Airbnb listings, to starting a dropshipping store, to freelancing on sites like Airtasker. And excitingly, becoming increasingly popular in this side hustle space is starting a drone business.

While many may think of drones as a hobbyists’ device for flying at the park or beach, drones and aerial intelligence more broadly are in fact transforming a range of industries. Take a look at some of the real-world, commercial applications of drones below:

  • Taking aerial photos and videos of houses, land and commercial properties for real estate listings
  • Capturing sporting events
  • Search and rescue services
  • Aerial videography for the TV, commercial and film industries
  • Mapping and surveying of sites across mining, construction and urban developments (Birdi’s drone pilot network complete a lot of mapping and surveying jobs for our Enterprise clients - you can find out more about our pilot network here)
  • Inspecting solar panels on roofs
  • Mapping, surveying and photographing of agricultural landscapes
  • And more.

With the clear breadth of applications for drones within the commercial space and their rise in popularity (according to PwC, the drone industry is estimated to hit US$144 billion by 2025), there is a ripe opportunity for starting your own drone business. And if you already happen to have an interest in emerging tech, this could be the perfect opportunity for you!

Starting a drone business: getting started

There are many elements to consider when starting any business, let alone a drone one. We’ll give a broader overview of some of the key steps to take in this post, and we’ll do a more detailed dive in some of our other Birdi blog articles (now’s a great time to subscribe to our blog/newsletter! You’ll get a monthly roundup of articles and cool, relevant things straight to your inbox).

Step 1: Market Research

All new ventures require research, and the first type you need to do is market research. Start flexing your Googling skills and research who your competitors are, their service offerings and price points, and how you might differentiate yourself. Is there a particular niche you could appeal to? Do you want to specialise in a particular drone service (e.g. being the number one drone operator in real estate photography), or provide a broader offering?

This initial market research should give you some insights into the space and how you might fit into it. We recommend adding your findings into what’s called a Competitor Analysis (think: a spreadsheet/doc that contains rows of your competitors, what sets them apart, their price points, and anything else that’s relevant, which you can easily refer to in the future. We’ll cover this in more depth in another article).

Step 2: Understand the drone industry

Like every industry, there’s a lot to get up to speed on. In the drone space, there are various aviation-specific rules and regulations to understand, certifications to complete, insurance options to explore, along with better understanding drones themselves and which types are best for each type of capture request.

Getting it will be its own step, but at this point you should also look into the different types of licences needed to fly a drone commercially. In Australia, these requirements can be found on the CASA website (i.e. the Civil Aviation Safety Authority), but you should take a look at your country’s civil aviation regulating body to find out what is required to fly a drone in your own country.

This step is pretty juicy, and we recommend spending as long as you need here to get a better sense of the drone space. The Birdi blog will cover these areas in detail as well, so feel free to check back on us regularly!

Step 3: Learn to fly

This step is an obvious one. There are a range of courses at varying price points that you can take - with a mix of theory and practical components - and we recommend finding one that suits your drone business needs. For example, if you want your business to specialise in flying drones for agricultural purposes, you’ll need to focus your learning on flying drones fit for this purpose.

Step 4: Craft a business plan

A business plan is essentially your business on paper: it’s a detailed document that covers all the elements of your business. There are various business plan templates and advice on completing them readily available online (plus check back on us for business plan insights), and you can really be as detailed as you like with this step. If your drone business is going to be more than just a side hustle, you’d probably want to spend as much time as you can here to properly determine all the workings of your business.

The main sections of a business plan are:

  • Your business description 
  • Services 
  • Clientele
  • Competition 
  • Team
  • Inventory and gear
  • Operational plan
  • Marketing plan
  • Legal requirements
  • Insurance 
  • Financials

It’s important to note that businesses change. The better you understand your business and offering, the more likely you’ll be to iterate and improve on it. Think of your business plan as an ongoing working document, not something set in stone.

Step 5: Put your plan into action

Now it’s time to put your business plan into action! Get that website designed, organise your equipment, set up your social media and online presence and get yourself ready to generate your first leads. One great way to start building your business is to join Birdi’s Australia-wide drone pilot network (find out how Birdi can help drone organisations here. We also recommend joining our waitlist for our new self-serve plans coming soon! Waitlist members will also get exclusive discounts when we launch as well). We have a range of clients that need occasional and regular data capture, and can send you jobs that match your profile, credentials and location.

Starting a drone business or side hustle is an exciting venture in an emerging space. As more organisations realise the benefits of aerial intelligence for streamlining their business operations, the more opportunity there is for budding drone pilot entrepreneurs such as yourself to carve out your own part of the drone services market. And we’ll be right here to support you!

Brooke Hahn
Brooke has been involved in SaaS startups for the past 10 years. From marketing to leadership to customer success, she has worked across the breadth of teams and been pivotal in every company's strategy and success.

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