"I saw the view... I was hooked." How I launched my commercial drone business

Drone pilot Andy Smith operating drone with cityscape and bay in background
(Image credit: Andy Smith)

Author Andy Smith has been flying drones commercially since 2018, and his work has appeared on the BBC and ESPN, as well as between clients in construction and transport. He has even picked up the Smithsonian magazine Photographer of the Year Award 2023 in the drone category.

We have to turn the clock back further for his first aerial experience: "My first contact with drones was in 2016. I remember it vividly. I was working as a Creative Director for a marketing agency at the time. I had seen photographers and videographers working on many occasions before. Though I was in awe of what they could do, I didn’t feel any urge to pick up a camera before that. But that all changed on one chance encounter."

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"I was on-set for a video shoot, directing the camera crew. At some point they produced a drone to capture some establishing shots. It was the first time I’d seen one. It was a DJI Phantom 3. I was impressed by the machine, but when I saw the iPad display and saw the view from the sky, I was hooked. It looked like dreams I’d had of flying and I knew I had to do it."

Big top by the sea (Image credit: Andy Smith)

Did it take long?

"For the next six months or so, I found my mind drifted to drones every hour, and I was getting obsessed. So, after much wrangling, I went ahead and bought my first drone, the original DJI Mavic Pro. There followed an extremely steep learning curve for about a year. I found flying the craft came quickly and naturally, for me the challenge was mainly working out how to use the camera, how to master lighting, editing, and post-production. In parallel with that, I studied for my license (the now defunct PFCO) through a distance learning system, achieved my qualification in 2018, and then began building my business from there.

"I love it. I’d do it for free, and indeed do whenever I can, but I’m lucky to be able to do it for a living too. I learn something new every time I fly."

(Image credit: Andy Smith)

Andy Smith Launch your Commercial Drone Business book cover

(Image credit: Andy Smith)

And the book? 

In Andy's words: "I have learned what works – and what doesn’t – through a process of trial and error. I am sharing my knowledge in this book, so you don’t have to work through the same process yourself. The approach I have developed is also influenced by 16 years of experience working in the marketing industry. I have drawn on this knowledge and applied it to marketing my drone business. The result is a combination of expertise from both areas."

Extract from Launch Your Commercial Drone Business

The process described in this book is easy and accessible to anyone willing to put in the work. It’s important at this stage to be clear that it will involve time and effort on your part. There is no magic formula, and this is not a ‘get-rich-quick’ guide. What it does offer is an easy-to-follow system that cuts out the things that don’t work and shares things that really do work. There is nothing in here that is a waste of your time.

My offer to you is to guide you through the steps that will help you to market your drone work. You will need to follow them, without cutting corners and without skipping any of the steps. If you do this, you will have the best chance of success.

What’s in the book?

The idea of this book is to make marketing your drone business organized and easy. We show you how to find, approach, and connect with audiences who regularly use aerial imagery.

The book is split into four parts. At the end, you can repeat the final step indefinitely and watch your business grow.

Part 1: Your platform. The first step is to set up your platform – your website, your showreel/galleries, your social media profiles, and a bank of resources you need to promote yourself.

Part 2: Your audience. The next step is to find the people who hire drone operators, and who purchase aerial video and photography; to know who these people are and how to contact them. This is where you introduce yourself and connect with your newly identified audience. This is the beginning of a career-long dialog.

Part 3: Proactive projects. This is the part where you really add value, creating new work and sharing it with your newly found audience, as well as making it available for online purchase.

Part 4: Supporting social media marketing strategy. This is how you can organize and create content to share on a regular basis on social media, to support your new business activities. 

You will need to work on each step and always conduct yourself professionally. If you do this, and keep producing the best work you can, you should see your business steadily grow.

How the book works

This book has been created to be as simple as possible to follow. The steps here can be applied anywhere in the world. The results you find will vary depending on where you are, so examples are given that you will need to adapt to your own location. Each step builds on the one before, so it’s important you do them in order and don’t skip forwards or backward.

If you're interested in buying the book, there is a link below. If you're contemplating the right gear, we love the Mavic 3 Pro, though there are other choices on our list of best camera drones.

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Adam Juniper
Managing Editor

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook