Farmer pilot using drone remote controller at sunset. The field is visible in the background
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can power unique, service-driven small business ventures for those who want to pilot these aircrafts for commercial purposes. — Getty Images/Onfokus

Drones aren’t just high-tech military machinery, recreational remote-controlled fun for kids or sophisticated delivery solutions for megacorporations. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can help power some unique, service-driven small business ventures for those with the interest in or know-how to pilot these aircrafts for commercial purposes. Events, real estate, agriculture, construction and engineering-based businesses can all benefit from drone technology, yet many don’t have the resources or capabilities to integrate them into their operations. Instead, they outsource the work to those with the equipment and expertise to navigate their needs, which creates enormous opportunities in a market expected to reach $63.6 billion by 2025. While commercial drone flying is a highly regulated industry, pathways for entrepreneurialism and growth are abundant, with Part 107 training, certification and FAA aircraft registration.

Real estate photography

The real estate market relies on quality photography to capture a home or commercial property’s best features and generate interest, and there are professional photographers for that. What most don’t offer are aerial views that provide greater perspective and context for potential buyers, which significantly enhance a property’s marketability.

You can start a small business that pilots camera-equipped drones, offering captivating, hi-res photos and videos with multiple angles and command $250 - $350 on average for a 60-90 minute session. The more services you offer, like photo or video editing, the more you can charge. There are certain artful nuances that set the best drone-powered real estate photographers apart from the rest, so know the best tips for creating a portfolio that best captures the most marketable features of a property.

Event photography

Having a bird’s eye view for life’s most memorable events is a unique vantage point and one that can have a lot of value for those planning outdoor weddings and other special celebrations. Starting a business that appeals to those who do not want to miss a moment or view of their once-in-a-lifetime event can be a low investment, large profit venture. Drones deliver dynamic images and panoramic perspectives that are the things coveted memories are made of. So much so that full-day rates could soar as much as $2,500 and higher, not including post-production services.

If pursuing any type of drone business, you will want to get insured to cover unforeseen accidents or damage. Know the restrictions and guidelines associated with this type of business and adhere to safety best practices.

Online drone course creation

If you are an experienced drone pilot, producing and selling an online course that teaches aspiring commercial drone pilots everything they need to know can be a great way to generate passive income. You can create a series or package of classes that breaks instruction down by topic, area of specialty or level of expertise.

There are a seemingly endless number of online learning platforms out there to create, host and market online courses, so find the one that best suits your needs and objectives. You will want to ensure that your training courses align with and cover all the necessary materials to pass the Remote Pilot certificate knowledge test.

Drone rentals

If you own the drone, why not create a business out of leasing the equipment, or your services, out to others? Your technology and aptitude may be what a nearby business is looking for to understand the implications drones can have on their business. You can allow them to “try before they buy,” given the hefty investment that drones can be. There may also be those within your community with a one-off need for a drone, whether for a project or event. Sign up with an online peer-to-peer marketplace like Fat Lama where drones are available to rent by location, or UpSonder which is a marketplace for those looking to rent or sell professional drone piloting services.

While commercial drone flying is a highly regulated industry, pathways for entrepreneurialism and growth are abundant when you complete Part 107 training, certification and FAA aircraft registration.

Drone home/roof inspection

Starting a home inspection business that utilizes drones can be highly profitable, with the national average cost of drone-assisted roof inspections ranging between $150 - $400. Drones are much faster alternatives to traditional home inspections, providing aerial views of difficult-to-access exterior spaces like roofs, gutters, HVAC systems and chimneys, without causing damage to the property or inspector. They are also lower in cost, which makes them attractive options for those in need of inspections. As with all commercially used drones, certified home inspectors must adhere to important standards and safety guidelines. Not a certified home inspector? The good news is that it is not a barrier to entry. Many in the home inspection business utilize platforms like DroneBase to find UAV professionals in their area to assist with inspection projects for greater efficiency and increased safety.

Search and rescue (SAR) drone pilot

Drones save lives, aiding in the search and rescue efforts of police officers, fire crews and EMS teams. Experienced SAR drone pilots, particularly those whose equipment has thermal imaging capabilities, can become a desperately-needed source for help in scouring remote and difficult-to-access areas of land and water where people and animals could be hurt or stranded. Besides being weather and terrain-proof, many also have the capability to deliver food and medical supplies where they are needed. There are specific courses for drone pilots who wish to be called upon during times of emergency or disaster, and it is critical that one gets properly trained to handle these critical, high-stress and unpredictable situations.

Land mapping and surveying

Drone surveying is the process by which large and accurate measurements of Earth’s surfaces are taken from overhead for the purpose of creating maps and plotting boundaries using surveying software. It requires detailed photos and measurements taken from hundreds, sometimes thousands of angles and from varying distances, which are then stitched together to form high-quality 2D and 3D orthomosaic maps. Drones have helped to advance the accuracy of these science-based disciplines, helping to create 3D models of land masses that have otherwise limited data available. They help to guide infrastructure planning and construction, and map things like excavation sites and mines. There is value in marketing your drone and piloting skills for the purposes of surveying and mapping. While typical hourly rates vary by industry, the sweet spot falls somewhere in the $100-200/hour range.

Insurance claim processing

On-demand drones for the purpose of processing insurance claims are the new, safer and more efficient way to assess damage from events like theft, flooding and natural disasters. Currently, approximately 17% of commercial drones are used for insurance purposes. The key to success lies in the relationships you build with local insurance companies and adjusters. In times of crises, adjusters often find themselves scrambling and without the necessary human resources to address every claim with speed, safety and accuracy. Drone operators can instantly deploy their equipment to photograph damage and generate reports in record time, resulting in claims being processed and paid with greater sensitivity to the needs of those personally dealing with the loss and damage.

Crop monitoring

Farmers who can see the health of their crops in real time can make adjustments in real time, presenting great opportunities for drone pilots who live in rural areas and can service the agricultural industry. If you’re located in a farm-dense community, consider the impact you can make on the farming community who can adjust elements like irrigation and fertilization based on the photos and readings taken by drones. What’s more, drone operators can pilot drones that carry and spray chemicals like herbicides and pesticides to the areas of the crops that surveys indicate need them the most. The implications are so promising that the market for using drones in the agriculture industry is expected to reach $6.52 billion by 2026, up from $1.19 billion in 2018.

Stock photography

Have drone, will travel: Packing your drone and being ready during vacations, hikes, sightseeing adventures and even park strolls can turn into money in your pocket. Most businesses need imagery to help build their brand and curate their digital content in dynamic ways, and aerial video and photography can provide endless possibilities.

There are several reputable stock media sites that are highly trafficked and known as the best platforms for those seeking quality graphics. And shoppers are prepared to spend hundreds on videos that are mere seconds in length. Cityscapes and natural shots are always in demand, as are images that capture and align with whatever is trending in current events.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Follow us on Instagram for more expert tips & business owners’ stories.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Join us for our Small Business Day event!

Join us at our next event on Wednesday, May 1, at 12:00 p.m., where we’ll be kicking off Small Business Month alongside business experts and entrepreneurs. Register to attend in person at our Washington, D.C., headquarters, or join us virtually!