I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of a techy.
I love new gadgets and toys, mainly because they’re just fun to play with.
So I’ve been interested in drones for a number of years, mainly passingly because I find the concept exceptionally cool.
But then I heard about all the ways you could monetize this awesome toy by literally getting paid to fly it, and I was hooked. I had to research this topic because it was just fascinating hearing all the stories from people making BANK with this innovative side hustle idea.
If you’re unfamiliar, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV. They’ve been around for about 30 years now, where they initially were developed for the military.
I’m bringing this up because there are actually many different types of “drones”. The ones I’m going to talk about today, and the ones you can actually purchase as a private operator, are called “quadcopter drones”.
Those are the ones with 4 different propellers rotating, with a camera attached, and you can fly with a remote control.
If you’re interested in diving in a little more, here’s a (corny, but useful) video to help explain better.
Now, let’s get into the fun stuff. Making money from your drone!
Ideas For Making Money With A Drone
For this article I’m going to try and provide you with as many ideas as possible. These ideas come from speaking with actual drone operators and doing my own research.
I might be missing some ideas, and if I am please let me know and I’ll add them to the list!
Sell Aerial Video & Photos
If you’re a fan of travelling you can record those amazing areas you’ve visited and sell the stock footage and photos.
Large and small brands are desperate for high quality stock video to help boost their TV, social, and digital media campaigns.
There is still a massive need for this footage.
Here are some quick tips to help you get started:
- Check Out As Many Stock Footage Platforms As Possible
There are multiple places like Getty, Shutterstock, Pond5, and more. Be sure to check out the different footage companies to get the best rate.
Pro Tip: Sell your footage across many different sites to increase your odds of making money.
- Get This Kind Of Footage For Highest Odds Of Making Money
From my research, here are the top niches to get footage of:
This was such an interesting way to make money with a drone. There are a couple different options, but it goes much further than just taking pictures of the ground.
Here are some of the top ideas…
Farmers need help with monitoring their livestock over large tracts of land. I live in Texas where ranches are hundreds of acres, and the ranchers need to maintain a watchful eye on their steer.
They’ll be very happy to pay for help with keeping an eye on everything remotely.
When California was going through their burn season, they hired professional drone pilots to help track and map out wildfires.
Not only can they map out wildfires, but if you have thermal imaging on the drone you can see through smoke and provide better data on potential hot spots.
There’s a caveat though, you need to get permission from the department before doing this, because it’s illegal to impede on a firefighter putting out fires.
Doesn’t mean you can’t ask though!
Private companies love using drones for help with monitoring their infrastructure like buildings, pipelines, and beyond.
I was told by a drone operator that he makes money helping shoot lasers which help with building 3D models for the construction companies.
He’s also a sub-contractor doing the work part time from his full time gig!
Inspect Power Lines
Use drone surveillance to help electricians and other technical workers inspect cell towers, power lines, phone lines, and beyond.
These workers will use drones because it means keeping them out of harm’s way, especially if a power line falls which can cause immediate electrocution.
You can equip drones with sensory devices to help provide greater benefit to a variety of industries.
Using a drone for remote sensing is going a little further than just surveying the land.
You can use technology like Lidar to measure distance by shooting a laser and then measuring the reflection.
You could even equip a drone with biological sensors to take air quality readings and check for other organic compounds.
The list for remote sensing is only limited by your imagination!
It’s becoming more popular to use drones for filmmaking compared to expensive booms, dollies, or even helicopters for larger studios.
Though you’re probably not a professional filmmaker, you can still use drones to get high quality film and video for a variety of different clients.
A good example is wedding photography. It’s a VERY competitive space and if you have a drone, you can rent it out to well known photographers, or you can do the work yourself for unique shots.
Another idea for filmmaking is to help up and coming Youtube stars create their content. Youtube is the second most searched platform behind Google.
People on Youtube are watching more than 1 billion hours of video… Per day.
This means there’s a giant market for a savvy drone operator (like yourself!) to connect with Youtube creators for content.
Did you know you can use drones to help locate and save lives after a natural disaster?
It’s easy to pack sensors and other equipment on a drone to work with locating individuals who may be trapped by fallen debris.
You could also use the drone to deliver medicine and other supplies to otherwise unreachable areas with a drone.
Obviously you would need to get creative with figuring out how to monetize this, but at least it’s a starting point.
Or, you could just be a good samaritan!
Like the example above about surveying land, you can attach high quality sensors onto a drone to help gather geological info related to gas, oil, and other minerals.
Drones are awesome because they emit basically zero emissions and are capable of much more precise readings compared to other methods.
It’s a good strategy for those living in mineral rich areas!
Real Estate Photos & Inspections
This is the most common method for monetizing your drone.
The problem is that it’s a very crowded space because every drone operator thinks the same thing…
However, it’s still a lucrative market if you can get your foot in the door with some real estate agents.
Because realtors need high quality and attractive photos of their properties to increase the odds of selling them. Normal pictures on the ground are just not going to be enough for expensive properties.
People want to see all the angles for high end listings.
What isn’t so crowded is real estate inspections!
A large number of industries will hire drone operators for inspections. Construction, insurance, and utility companies to name a few.
Basically, you’ll be asked to get really close to the properties to inspect for damage. A couple indications of damage include:
- Insulation fraying
- Water damage
- Roof damage
- Gutter issues
- Chimney problems
- And many more
This is even more true for large scale commercial buildings where the monetary value is much higher.
Buyers want to know they’re doing the best due diligence possible. With aerial drone footage, they can know with certainty they’re getting the best information.
It’s already pretty big news that Amazon has decided to invest heavily in drone deliveries. So much so that they’ve actually petitioned the FAA for special privileges and reduction of regulations.
This is good news for you because it means there’s a market quickly forming!
One idea in particular I think you might be interested in is marijuana delivery.
IMPORTANT: Look – it’s awkward for me to bring this up because cannabis is still federally illegal. You should obviously protect yourself before doing anything like this, and you need to triple check your state laws related to distribution of this, but it’s an idea nonetheless. For instance, in Washington state there’s no “explicit” rule banning delivery of cannabis.
You could reach out to dispensary owners and offer to help deliver their packages via drone to a certain radius of people.
It could certainly be an interesting side hustle!
Did you know you could make well over $100k winning a single drone race?
Isn’t that crazy?
Not in the world of drone racing. In fact, the DRL (drone racing league) has announced they’ve reached over 21 million fans who actively watch drone racing.
That’s a lot of eyeballs, which means advertisements, which means serious cash for the contestants who race professionally.
Obviously you need good hand eye coordination, but it’s a legit way to earn money!
Sports that typically take a professional crew with helicopters and other tools to get quality footage can definitely benefit from drone footage.
Some examples include:
- Mountain biking
- Rock Climbing
- Horse racing
- And much more!
All of these sports are notorious for being difficult to get high quality action shots. Even if the players are not sponsored by a company, they’ll still want footage to upload to Youtube (hint hint).
Hunters want to know where the animals are, but it can be incredibly difficult to go deep into the woods or to private land.
Connect with hunters to provide a complete scouting report of areas they’re considering for their next hunting trip.
Hunters are happy to pay for dozens of trial cameras, which means they’ll pay for an inside look at where the best game is!
Can You Actually Make Money With A Drone?
Yes, very much so!
After speaking with at least 20 drone operators I’ve found they typically make between $50-$150/hr for their flying.
If you’re selling aerial footage on Shutterstock, you can expect it to be slightly lower compared to doing high end thermal imaging for natural gas companies.
As a beginner, you’re going to charge a lower amount to get clients and build a portfolio, but you can quickly raise your rates as you begin to specialize.
About 50% of the people I spoke with mentioned they did their first couple jobs either for free (if they got a testimonial) or at a significant discount compared to their prices today. Often at 50%-75% discounted rates.
Their goal was to get word of mouth for their work, which was definitely effective!
Just start lower and raise your rates as you continue to find work until you find people balking at your price, then you’ll know it’s too high.
What Are The Costs Of Starting A Drone Business?
Expect to spend between $2,000 – $4,000 to start your drone business.
Because of the following:
- Drone Insurance (it’s a hidden cost!)
- FAA License (more on this in a bit)
- Marketing materials
From my research it’s clear the DJI Mavic is the number 1 choice by experienced drone owners. It’s much cheaper (by 50% actually) compared to their competitors, and it comes with a number of high quality features like:
- Long distance flight (4 mile range)
- Obstacle avoidance
- Prevision hover
- Long battery life (30 minutes)
- 4k camera
- Backup sensors
Another unexpected cost a lot of operators told me about was drone insurance. You actually need to have this in order to operate a drone commercially. You can typically expect to spend about $1,000/year on drone insurance.
You will need to get a FAA Part 107 license in order to commercially operate (i.e. make money) a drone.
It’s not a very difficult test, and it has at least a 90% pass rate on the first try. Plus, the FAA gives you training materials.
Expect to spend about $150 for this test.
Executive Summary: Start A Drone Business Today
There you have it!
This was an incredibly interesting article to write because drones (and technology in general) are fascinating to me.
If you’re looking for a legit side hustle, then consider starting up a drone business in your spare time.
If you have any questions or updates, leave a comment!