So you’ve obtained executive buy-in for a drone program at your company and started small. By achieving gains in efficiency and overall safety, you’ve made a strong case for expansion. How do you take the next step forward without jeopardising what you’ve already built?
Scaling your drone operation can seem daunting. With a little smart planning and prioritisation, you’ll have an easier time moving forward.
1. Manage your data
Even if you’re flying a drone for simple photogrammetry, you have an opportunity to apply algorithm analysis and increase the quantity and quality of the data you gather. Skyward partner PrecisionHawk applies algorithms that can determine whether crops are diseased or need fertiliser, as well as their eventual yields. As your business grows, extracting more actionable data from each flight will become a vital means to increase the efficiency and value of your operation.
With all this information, storage and management increasingly become concerns. How long do you need to store your data? How can you best search and maintain these databases as they grow? Thinking about these questions now and planning ahead will spare you a few headaches further down the road.
2. Have strong internal systems
No matter what industry you’re in, having strong internal systems in place will make the process of scaling up run exponentially smoother—and this tip goes double if you’re in a particularly complex industry such as construction and engineering or media. So many moving pieces at any given moment (permits, personnel, equipment, schedules, multiple vendors) introduce variables and increase risks. As your operation scales up, you’ll find it increasingly important to have an easy-to-use system to manage all of these details, especially once you start coordinating multiple jobs in separate locations with different flight crews and managers. You’ll want to know that every crew is following the same processes, that aircraft are being maintained to the same sets of standards, and that everyone is meeting internal and regulatory compliance.
If you haven’t already, come to one of our weekly live demos to see how Skyward can help you accomplish these goals.
3. Be flexible with pricing
We get dozens of emails every week from individuals and big companies asking for advice on pricing drone services. Because the industry is so new, everyone is wondering how much to charge for aerial services and data. You have to start somewhere, but rest assured that the pricing structure you start with doesn’t have to stay the same forever.
This doesn’t necessarily mean finding ways to charge more. Experiment with charging by the hour, by deliverable, or by the day—you can go after different parts of the market with different options. Take PrecisionHawk, for example. They charge farmers 10 cents per acre to process crop data, and 20 cents per acre to store the data. They adapted their pricing to their farmer clients, who are accustomed to thinking by the acre. Once you find an approach that works, a clear, tiered pricing structure will help further expand your customer base. People like to be given choices, and it’s best if they’re choosing between your offerings than between you and a competitor.
A hybrid pricing structure might also be the right approach, depending on your offerings and capabilities. Certain deliverables require expensive software or intensive, time-consuming analysis. If these deliverables aren’t profitable after you’ve factored in travel, time, and opportunity cost, don’t be afraid to turn down that work, or raise the price to reflect your investment.
4. Be creative
New use cases are being discovered every day, and it’s likely that we have yet to see most of the commercial applications for drones and aerial data. But even now, drones are providing utility well beyond nice real estate videos, especially by taking over dangerous or time-consuming jobs that can be done safer and more efficiently with a drone.
NBC News recently used drones to document the aftermath of earthquakes in Italy and flooding in Louisiana. Volumetric stockpile inspections are another growing use case across several industries. Equipped with the right software, a drone flying over, say, a vast pile of aluminium extrusions, can help to determine how many aluminium rods you have and how long they will take to transport.
Here’s an example that might surprise you: Stantec, the multinational professional services firm, uses drones to examine sites for possible anthropological and paleontological significance. By flying over a site that’s poised for development, they can see if artefacts are buried under the surface and avoid costly legal and ethical complications during construction.
This union of the ancient and the modern world might have been unimaginable a few years ago, but we are now at the point where new applications for drone technology are being identified in almost every field. By embracing one of these new use cases—or better yet discovering one on your own—you can expand the value of your drone operations.
5. Expand your fleet
With a larger fleet and more pilots, you can cover a wider area and perform multiple operations simultaneously, or you can use several drones at a single site to cover a large area in a fraction of the time. If you’re having trouble finding qualified pilots, or need an additional hand to help with a tricky or demanding flight, you can use Skyward’s Pilot Finder to search for operators, filtering by location, desired services, drone manufacturer, insurance coverage, and more.
Having a good maintenance system can prevent many, but not all, equipment problems. And when your primary aircraft becomes unusable before or during an operation, the fix is sometimes not as simple as turning a screw. As your total flights increase, so does the risk of malfunction. With a backup UAV available, you’ll be able to complete the scheduled flight and then perform repairs on your own discretion, not in the field.
How are you presenting yourself to the public or different divisions within your company? What sets you apart and what problems do you solve? You should have a comprehensive marketing strategy and a visually appealing website that shows off your capabilities—even if your “customers” are your co-workers. The deliverables you can provide are a better marketing tool than the tools you’re using, as customers might not be able to translate technical specifications into the results they’re seeking. Looking to promote your services to major corporations? Partnering with a reputable drone network will increase your visibility, and help establish a sense of trust in a nascent industry.
For more on finding customers, take a look at our recent article on Finding Customers and Growing Your Drone Business.