Once I made the decision to make some major changes in my life, I shed what had become the routine and embarked on a new journey. Otherwise known as the road less traveled.
The quest to be a Commercial Drone Pilot and provide drone services began. Now it was time to make it all official and legal like. It was time to go into business.
First off, this was not a rash decision. It was one of those that took time, thought, and most importantly funding, as well as the backing and support from my family.
As I laid out in the last article in this series, I had done okay being an eBay seller.
So much so, that my eBay store had value and was something that could be sold off for the most part.
Much like when the eBay seller thing had begun – slow at first and growing over time – I expected the same from this newest endeavor.
I had successfully flown for a pilot network that I had just signed onto and some of the seeds I had planted were starting to bear some fruit.
Things were looking good from a gaining work perspective.
Most importantly, I was enjoying my newfound freedom of not being cooped up in a warehouse all day and some nights. The sky was the limit.
Even More Personal Background
Most people find it surprising that I was an eBay seller, and they wonder how it is that I was able to do it full-time.
I wish I could say that it was because I was such a good businessman. That would just be a lie.
The fact is, I found a niche and sold items most did not.
For me, it was about following personal passions. As I said, I sold mainly vintage items and antiques.
What I really sold was small vintage kitchen appliances and that led to selling full-on used restaurant equipment through consignment.
Much as the antiques I sold, this led to making arrangements with three area historical societies and assisting them in off-loading some of their overburden.
Then there were the vintage film projectors and typewriters and other what-have-yous.
Another popular question was why? Why quit my eBay gig? That one’s an easy answer.
My wife’s health had taken a turn. As she needed more care from me than before, I needed a job that would allow me to be there when she needed, something flexible.
Being self-employed, you get what you put in. Your schedule is your own to make and with enough hard work, you’ll get results.
The wife’s health is a whole story of its own and plays a part later on.
Getting Started In Business
When looking into creating a business, it wasn’t all that complicated of a process. Now there were some options here.
For myself and to protect what I had worked for, I opted for an LLC, better known as a Limited Liability Company. You may decide on a different course.
For one, there was the option for a Sole Proprietorship or a Partnership.
As I was going it alone, Sole Proprietor was my choice. If you were working together with someone or even multiple someone’s, you’d go with a Partnership.
Then there is the choice of what type of business you are: an LLC or a Corporation. Corporations contain sub-categories such as C, S, B, or non-profit.
As I wasn’t a corporation, I didn’t pay much mind to this aspect. No, I ended up being a Sole Proprietorship LLC.
The reason for setting things up this way was that if some major catastrophic event were to occur, my personal belongings would be protected to some degree and only the assets of the business would be eligible for any litigation.
Now this is something you can actually do yourself, online even if you want. The process is, in reality, fairly easy.
I worked with my accountant, though, who assisted in setting everything up, from the federal and state side of things.
For myself, it was a means of making sure all the t’s were crossed, and i’s were dotted. This does lead to a good point: surrounding yourself with the right people.
Finding The Right People
Anyone can own and operate a business. That much is true; not everyone will do it well, though.
This is where having the right people in your corner comes into play.
It’s key to find people with knowledge sets you may lack. When setting up a business, you can go it alone.
Although that is an option, it is always best to position yourself where you can get good advice, and, if needed, assistance.
As I said, when I went through the actual business setup process, including registering and getting my Federal Tax ID number and then filing my company with the state I reside in, I had help.
It’s all pretty straightforward and streamlined enough that you can do it yourself. But, as this was the start of something important and new for me.
And if you’re like me, you’ve never done something like this before.
So I thought it best to have someone who has a better understanding of it than I did to do it for me.
Although I had operated an eBay store and was self-employed, and not only through my eBay time, but during my time as a flooring installer as well.
But I never had to be a business before. This is why I had my accountant help me.
The biggest reason was that he could do that easier than I could, and it would be done right from the start.
And two, he didn’t charge as much for his time as my attorney would have.
That would have also been a good option for this process, although a little pricier.
When it comes to any business, be it a small one like mine, to the large corporate monsters that exist out there, there is no more important person than the accountant.
That’s the one person who has the pulse of your company in mind.
He looks after your books and files your taxes every quarter or yearly depending on how you are set up.
Here it’s essential to have someone you trust, as they will have access to your finances.
It is also here that having someone who is certified is also important, so no fly-by-night operations.
The reason is that if a mistake is made, it falls on them and not necessarily your company or yourself.
As certified public accountants, they bear some responsibility for what they do and sign off on.
As far as setting up a company goes, a lawyer isn’t critical to the task. A lawyer plays a much larger role after the business is set up.
Or you can use the Lawyer to help you set up your business much as the accountant can.
In my case, I had the accountant set up the business, and the lawyer just looked over everything the accountant did for me.
His role came into play after the setup when it was time to create work order contracts and figure out an actual business plan, a part I had skipped initially. Oops!
No, the Lawyer was used for getting my forms in order and figured out. As I said, contracts for services, Copyright registration, things along that scope.
After all, there’s no sense in creating something if someone else can just come along and take it from you.
The Lawyer’s job is to protect your business and its interests. Otherwise known as your company’s Heavy. After all, no one really likes lawyers, do they?
Here again, the Banker could help you set up your business much like your accountant or lawyer can.
Although to be frank, it’s not his job, and you would be much better off with one of the other guys for that.
No, the Banker is the money guy. Here’s one I wish I would have thought about much more and found and had without having gone the route of self-funding.
There’s an old adage that is certainly true today as when it was first uttered. “It’s better to use other people’s money than your own.”
This is absolutely true. Remember I self-funded, and it was a mistake. I should have sought out new business funding.
There are several programs that help a new business financially, whether it’s through a grant or a low-interest loan.
Getting the Right Equipment
Now I had everything in order, and D&Ds Aerial Views LLC was now an actual operating entity.
The few jobs I had under my belt had taught me so much, from camera position to field of view, to yes, proper exposure.
Also, what most clients may be expecting, among other things.
Flying for oneself was quite a bit different than flying for someone else. Now it was time to go shopping.
At the time, there was only one real drone system out that I had my eye on. That was the newly released DJI Phantom 4 Pro.
As a new system, it would stand up to the test of time and wouldn’t need to be replaced all that quickly.
It had all the bells and whistles a drone pilot could want and then some.
It was my choice for my primary drone system. I got two! Now you may be wondering why I would have gotten two of the very same drone system.
Well, back then, as I pointed out before, things were a bit different, and you could very well be out in the field and have an issue that would keep you from completing your work.
So, I decided that no matter what my primary system was, I would always have a backup to it. Always good to back yourself up.
This has proven to be wiser than I thought myself capable of. It quickly proved to be a wise move. Crashes happen, after all, and the work still needs to be done.
It’s easy to think that just having the drone is good enough. You would be mistaken; there’s a whole lot more to it than just the drone system.
Like the computer you use – is it up to snuff?
I found that the trusty old laptop I had used and abused for years sadly wasn’t up to the task of processing 4K video.
Then I found out that most laptops aren’t either. That’s changed now, with many gaming laptops being equal to or even surpassing desktops today.
This had me looking at desktops, which is what I eventually did go with.
How’s your storage situation look? Yep, you’re going to need some external drives for all that data you’ll be collecting.
What about being able to charge up in the field? Yeah, you’re probably going to need to do that sometimes.
This list literally goes on and on. The fact is these are the nickel and dimers that will hurt your bottom line faster than anything else.
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Getting to Work
As I said, my first commercial shoot was for Dronebase, a pilot network operation. The pay was low, but they provided some free training for their method.
This is something that has held true over time. These pilot networks only offer low pay but do provide some training that you may want to take part in to better your skills and knowledge.
They also don’t provide steady work. You will need to build a client list and sell not only yourself but your services.
This is where you have to direct your focus and really decide just what services you want to provide.
As real estate was the biggest adopter of drone services at that time, much like they still are today, I reached out to area Realtors through a series of cold calls.
You can talk to anyone; however, you need to talk to the right person to get results.
As I was in my own locale, I had some connections in this area already, one of which was the Coldwell Banker in our area.
They were the first to agree to a contract and start consistently using my services. This led to having a few shoots a week on average, and that wasn’t too horrible.
It wasn’t quite enough, though. At the rates agreed to, which were fair for all, it wasn’t enough to cover everything and keep going.
The point I’m making is a single client will never be enough; you will need more. This requires diligence, patience, and hard work.
Not the physical kind but the emailing sort, and calling, and yes, even maybe, just maybe, a snail mail campaign.
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!