In the Field
Doing the Job Right
By Paul Dixon
Preparing a Solid Business Plan Will Help You Fly
By Paul Dixon
I’ve seen a number of posts in forums from people intent on getting into the UAV business. All too often, their posts are prefaced with question such as “what’s the best drone to use for (insert job here)” or “how much should I charge?”
But there’s a lot more to hanging out your shingle in the rapidly expanding world of UAVs than giving your business a snappy name and cute logo. And if you’re going to get paid at some point, then you must understand your UAV venture is a business and needs to be treated like one.
If you’re serious about this, then there’s only one way to do it and that’s to get it right from the beginning. To make the most of your business, you need to build a solid foundation before you turn a rotor. Long before you secure your first client, make sure you follow a few key steps. Do you have a solid business plan? You’d better get one, because it’s your road map to the future. Is this going to be an add-on to your existing business or is it a new venture? What are you going to do, who are your customers going to be and how much are you going to charge them? If you have experience in a particular field, then make it work for you. If you’ve got a background in heavy construction or mineral exploration, potential clients are likely going to prefer dealing with someone who speaks their language.
It’s also important to make a list of the industries or businesses you are familiar with and then take a survey of potential clients in your area. What services would you offer potential clients? Are you simply going to capture data and hand over the raw product – photos, video or any number of data captures – or will you process the data and present your clients with a finished product?
Once you have a business plan together, get to work on all the various licences, permits and other sundry paperwork that goes with any business. While it’s important you understand and follow the applicable Transport Canada (TC) regulations regarding UAVs and their operation, it’s just as important from the business side of the equation that you address things that every business has to contend with.
Are you doing business as a limited liability corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship? That’s for you to decide, based on a number of factors. Whatever you choose, you’ll have to register with your province. You will also need a GST number. If you don’t have one, then get one. In the business world, nothing separates the pretenders from the contenders faster than the lack of a GST number.
Another key step is to understand your insurance requirements, both from the regulatory sense and the broader context. Many third-party facilities such as hotels and golf courses that cater to weddings and corporate events stipulate UAV users to provide proof that the UAV pilot as well as the UAV are TC compliant and require proof of insurance.
You must be prepared to put a lot of time and energy into establishing your business and growing it. If you’ve figured out what your preferred market areas are and who the potential clients are, then you need to figure out how you’re going to connect your service with the client’s need, especially when they don’t know that you’ve got the solution to a problem they might not even be aware of yet. A solid website is a must. Simple is fine, but it has to be current. Direct marketing to potential clients is always a possibility, but connecting with the right person over the phone or by email can be tricky. Join your local chamber of commerce or business organization and take the opportunity to provide demonstrations.
When making presentations, never tell potential clients that you can save them. Instead, focus on how you can help them grow their bottom line through the services you provide. At the same time, don’t forget that you have to keep growing your own business. Your UAV, batteries, cameras, everything are depreciable and subject to wear and tear from day-to-day operations, otherwise known as depreciation. You need to account for that in your business plan, just as you need to say abreast of new developments in UAV technology and peripherals. At the end of the day you have to show a profit and that’s not a dirty word. When it comes to running a business, any business, it comes down to one thing. Do it by the numbers and the numbers will work for you.
Paul Dixon is a freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.