Solving complex problems with cutting-edge technology sounds like a dream job for many people, and carving out a piece of the fast-growing unmanned industry by starting your own drone business can be a great way to achieve this dream. However, there is more to opening up shop than simply buying the latest consumer drone off the shelf and getting it up in the air.
In this article, we will highlight a number of key decisions you may need to make, and some essential things to bear in mind, that will help you on your way to successfully setting yourself up with a profitable drone business.
One thing, or everything?
First, you should decide whether you want to be a jack-of-all-trades, or focus down on a specific area. While a drone business that covers multiple use cases may allow you to attract a wider variety of clients, there is also a risk of spreading yourself too thinly. As the drone industry has matured, it has fragmented into a great number of highly specialized niches, and it may be easier for you to make your mark in one of these by becoming really good at just one thing.
Your choice of application will also drive the design and payload selection of your drone. For instance, LiDAR sensors are typically more expensive and heavier than cameras for photogrammetry, so check your budget and plan accordingly.
Off-the-shelf or custom design?
For many applications such as surveying and aerial photography, a standard commercial quadcopter with a camera payload may be good enough. More specialized applications, such as use cases that are unique or under-served by the commercial markets, may require custom designs. Bear in mind that going down this road will undoubtedly be more expensive and complicated than run-of-the-mill applications.
An example of this is flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), which is a mode of operation currently in its infancy and requires additional hardware such as detect-and-avoid (DAA) systems and robust communications and datalinks.
Line-of-sight, or beyond the frontier?
Line-of-sight (LOS) operations currently represent almost all of the revenue being generated by the vibrant drone industry. They are competitive but well-established, and you can make money right away by following the processes laid down by your local aviation authority.
BVLOS drone operations are currently highly regulated in most jurisdictions, and you will have to work hard to be certified to fly. Although this section of the industry is highly experimental, the technology is there and many of the bottlenecks are regulatory – many experts believe it is only a matter of time before they become even more widespread and profitable than LOS operations.
If you want to get in on the ground floor of this up-and-coming market, now is a good time to think about carving out your own niche. Otherwise, if you want to play it safe, you can always learn the ropes by starting with a traditional LOS operation and scale-up in the future.
Once you’ve made these essential decisions about the nature of your drone business, there are a number of things you should consider that will allow you to operate seamlessly and efficiently within your chosen market segment.
Regulations, training, and insurance
Before flying your first mission, make sure you have obtained any certifications or qualifications required by your local jurisdictions and aviation authorities. It is worth noting that in some countries, hobby pilots may fly unregulated, but businesses need to be registered.
Even if not required, it may be worth obtaining industry-recognized pilot and knowledge-based qualifications, as these will add to the legitimacy of your operation and help you stand out to potential clients.
To ensure peace of mind for both you and your customers, insurance is also a good idea. Specialized drone insurance is available that can be tailored to your use case, the size of your company, the scale of your operations and a variety of other factors.
Good mission planning and flight logging software will enable your business to run a lot smoother, and creating these digital paper trails may be required for certification and insurance purposes. Many free options are available, particularly for small businesses just starting out, so you may not need to break the bank for this essential stage of setting up your business.
You may need specialized software that processes data for particular use cases such as photogrammetry, aerial photography, and inspection. Many payload manufacturers will include this as part of a complete solution.
Branding and marketing
Good branding and marketing is a step that is often overlooked or skipped by many businesses of all kinds, especially if you think of yourself as a “tech” guy! It is, however, crucial, as how you present yourself to potential clients can either add to or detract from your perceived professionalism and on-the-job competence.
If you don’t fancy yourself as much of a graphic designer, hire professionals to create a company logo and website for you. Beyond these basics, company-branded clothing and vehicles will also help you attain that professional look.
Partnering with industry experts
Figuring all this out by yourself can be easier said than done, especially if you are interested in breaking into a particular niche, complicated or novel market sector. However, you don’t need to go it alone. Partnering with established industry experts can help you avoid pitfalls, get on the right track quickly and accelerate your path to profitability.
If you have decided to venture down the exciting BVLOS route, Elsight’s HALO VIP investment program has been specially designed to help you succeed. In addition to providing robust communication capabilities via our state-of-the-art Halo drone connectivity platform, the program also helps companies to achieve certification, grow and scale their commercial drone operations, and enhance their profitability.
The Halo VIP program includes a personalized SMART Start Program that will help you strategically plan, manage implementation, align operations, obtain training, and monetize profitably. Halo is easily and seamlessly integrated for quick proof-of-concept development, and customers receive ongoing support as well as flexible, growth-based agreements and volume discounts for the Halo platform.
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