How to Start a Drone Business in 6 Steps
If you’re looking to start a business centered on an emerging and exciting piece of technology, consider operating your own drone business.
The increased number of drone sales and certified drone pilots is triggering noticeable growth in the market. According to Business Insider Intelligence, sales of drones are expected to exceed $12 billion in 2021. This will likely result in an increase in compound annual growth rate of 7.6%, up from $8.5 billion in 2016.
Drones are no longer just tech toys for hobbyists. Drones are creating real business opportunities to make money. If you want to learn how to start a drone business, stick around because we’re breaking down everything you need to know.
Step 1: Define Your Services
There are so many viable drone business ideas applicable to a spectrum of industries: construction, photography, agriculture, and more. If you’re new to drones, you can feel overwhelmed by the business opportunities available to you.
Start with your previous experience. If you’ve worked in a certain industry, you can discover innovative ways to use drones to improve an existing process.
A wedding photographer can capture unique angles of a ceremony or a bouquet toss, made possible by aerial shots from a drone. Adding a drone to your services can help distinguish you in a more saturated market.
If you run a building inspection business, drones can reduce the hazards of engaging with difficult-to-access structures, like skyscrapers and bridges. If you can train your inspectors to pilot drones, you can more safely inspect the structure ahead of time, before any manual labor is needed.
The number of drones registered with the FAA exceeded 1 million in 2018. More people are purchasing drones as they become more affordable, which also raises a need for drone repair services. If you can learn the nuts and bolts of drones, you can open your own drone repair shop. Drones are still expensive enough that most will opt for repairing their existing drone, over purchasing a new one off the shelf.
Don’t be afraid to spend extra time during this crucial first step, because it will affect the type of drone you need, but will also determine whether there’s a market for your business, who your target customers will be, and more.
Step 2: Register Your Business
When starting a drone business, you’ll need to register your business in order to operate legally. There are a few steps you should consider at this stage.
Choose a Business Entity
Choosing your business entity will be the first component of registering your business. Some common options are sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and corporations. Keep in mind, the business entity you choose will affect how you pay taxes, how much risk you’re exposing yourself to, and more, so you may want to consult with a business attorney or tax professional when making this decision.
With the exception of sole proprietorships and general partnerships, you will then need to register your business entity with your state, likely through your secretary of state or chamber of commerce department.
Choose a Unique Business Name
You’ll also want to start brainstorming unique business names that won’t be confused with other companies. To confirm that your business name is available, do a quick search with the secretary of state’s website and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
In today’s digital age, you’ll also want to secure a domain name for your business. You can verify availability with sites like Name.com or GoDaddy.com. A simple Google search can also show you if your desired business name is already in use.
Register for Taxes
Small business owners who plan to hire employees are required to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) before operating their business. However, even if you’re a one-person operation, you may still want to get an EIN.
An EIN is a nine-digit number used for various purposes, including taxes and opening a business bank account. You can apply for an employer identification number online with the IRS and should receive it within minutes.
Step 3: Secure Funding
Now that your drone business legally exists, you’ll still need to figure out how you’ll finance your business venture.
When applying for a business loan, your first stop should be with your bank, especially if you have a long history with them.
However, for first-time entrepreneurs, securing a business loan from a bank can be difficult. You don’t have the business history lenders look for when approving a loan. An alternative option is to apply for an SBA loan, but you’ll still need great financials.
Your other options include alternative lenders and other, more creative options to secure funding for your business, including:
- Business credit cards: The average cost of a drone can range from $250 to $1,000, depending on what hardware your model requires. For larger initial purchases such as these, you may want to open a 0% introductory APR business credit card. This way, you can pay down your balance interest-free for the duration of the intro period. Keep in mind, though, once this offer ends, a variable APR will set in based on the market prime rate and your creditworthiness.
- Crowdfunding: Bring your drone business idea to the public by using a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or GoFundMe. You can pool together small donations from large groups of people to finance your business.
- Bootstrapping: If you have a unique talent for stretching a dollar and a decent amount of savings, you can consider self-financing your business. This is a good financing option for those who have a firm handle on their finances.
Step 4: Obtain Your Remote Pilot Certificate
In 2016, the FAA passed Part 107, which outlines the necessary steps for operating a drone for commercial purposes. Within Part 107, you are required to register for a Remote Pilot Certificate with the FAA.
Here’s what you need to know:
Learn the Regulations
When operating your drone, there are certain rules and regulations you must abide by. For example, you are not allowed to fly your drone at night and you can only operate one drone at a time. Another important rule to note is that you cannot operate your drone over people who aren’t participating in your operation. Failure to comply with these regulations can incur costly penalties.
However, there are certain instances when you’d be able to operate your drone against the rules in part 107. For example, if you wanted to deliver supplies to an evening party with your drone, you can obtain a waiver. You can review a list of waivers on the FAA website.
With the influx of new drone pilots every year, FAA regulations are likely to receive updates and amendments over time. It’s critical that you research all drone regulations that apply to your local community and state before you begin operating your business.
Register Your Drone
All drones for commercial uses must be registered with the FAA. You can create an account with the FAA and register your drone online. When registering, you must provide a valid email address, a credit or debit card, your business address, and the make and model of your drone. It costs $5 per drone to register and registration is valid for three years.
Pass the Knowledge Test
Like obtaining a driver’s license, you must also take a knowledge test to secure your Remote Pilot Certificate. The FAA provides an overview of the certification process on their website.
This exam will test your knowledge of small unmanned aircraft regulations, airspace classification, emergency procedures, and more. Fortunately, most of the study materials can be found on the FAA database.
When you’re ready to take the test, you can schedule your knowledge test at a location near you. If you pass your test, you will be given instructions to complete the FAA Form 8710-13 to receive your remote pilot certificate.
Step 5: Purchase Drone Insurance
When operating a drone commercially, you’ll want to ensure that you and your business are covered during any incidents. When researching small business insurance, you’ll have two primary types to consider for your drone services:
Hull insurance covers any damages to your drone. Since drones are often operated outside, it can get damaged from weather-related elements or even collisions. When you need to replace certain parts or repair the camera, hull insurance will help offset the cost.
Since you are operating an airborne vehicle remotely, you run the risk of physical collisions. Liability insurance covers any damages you might inflict on a third party. You’ll want to ensure that you can cover the costs in case any physical property is damaged, or worse, someone is harmed.
Step 6: Market Your Drone Business
Using drones in your business is a unique selling point that you want to highlight when presenting your services. Here are some steps you want to take when marketing your new business.
Create a Professional Website
When designing your small business website, you’ll want to keep search engine optimization (SEO) at the forefront. If you’re unfamiliar with SEO, this means that when somebody searches for a key term on Google, your website is the one that pops up.
For example, if somebody searches “drone services in California” or “drone photography Florida”, you want your business to be found on the first page of search results.
Keep your potential customers in mind and what they’ll be searching for when looking for a business like yours. Then make sure these terms are in your website, as well as that your services are clearly described.
Network With Other Drone Pilots
The pool of drone pilots is still quite small but it’s growing every year. Don’t underestimate the power of referrals from drone pilots within your network. The number of ways to operate a drone and within different industries is vast. A drone mapping business might send a lead seeking drone inspection services you way, if that’s what you offer.
Technology is revolutionizing our economy and is creating new business opportunities for entrepreneurs with keen eyes.
Drones are no longer solely toys for tech hobbyists. There are real opportunities out there to make money with drones.
However, opportunity is only available to those who are prepared to seize it. We hope that this comprehensive guide equipped you with the knowledge and tools you need to start your drone business with confidence.
- BusinessInsider.com. “Drone Market Outlook: Industry Growth Trends, Market Stats and Forecasts“
- Transportation.gov. “FAA Drone Registry Tops One Million“
Dan Marticio is a small business owner and contributing writer at JustBusiness, specializing in business finance and entrepreneurship. He’s written on a broad range of topics from stocks and net worth to productivity hacks. He helps SMBs scale and profit through compelling content.