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How to compete?

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I bought an inpire 2 with the x4s and a crystalsky ultra in hopes that my son and I would start a business together.

I registered our business, started a bank account, got a website, and business cards.....we were set other than my part 107 license. We had started doing free jobs to get our name out and to start building a portfolio. We had a business plan and had settled on pricing and were going to remodel a room in the front of our house to serve as an office for.clients to come to.

Fast forward a couple of months and now it seems there are now 3-4 other people in our town flying drones that are offering their services.... however they only operate through Facebook, aren't part 107 certified, not a registered business, and will do ANYTHING people want including flying at night, flying over people, flying at sporting events over crowds in the bleachers, etc.....and all for like $50 a job.

How can someone that is legitimately trying to go about things the legal way compete against things like this?

It was so disheartening to find this out after investing so much time, effort, and money into this that I've all but given up hope and will probably sell.off all my stuff and cut my losses.
 
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I feel for you, it’s been the same with the photographic industry, some of us spent years learning at the feet of others and learnt the business costing as well as the imaging side of it.
Then digital cameras came out and the down turn in the economies and every one with a job became a “pro” photographer every weekend. No insurance, no overheads, no worries and cheap prices as they had no costs to take into consideration.
I would you suggest you bail out now while you can, the equipment is devaluing every day and the legislation is blatantly ignored, and the authorities also seem to ignore reports of illegal work, so you are in a no win situation.
Regards from England
Alistair
 
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I hear your frustration. I to had built up a great Real Estate cliantele that dropped from about 20 to 2 in less than two years. Most found providers like you described. Undercut prices because they are not licensed and insured in most cases. I saw the writing on the wall when they starting trying to get me to do shoots for less than the amount I would spend on gas to get to their 10M listing. Rather than complain, I politely declined and moved on.

The only way to stay alive in the business and this day and age is thinking outside the box. Anyone can hang a shingle on the front door with relative ease. I moved on to other opportunities. Mostly ones that I hadn't even thought of. Just kept my eyes open. 40% of all small business fail in less then 24 months. You have to "Sell" yourself to others and have a superior product. Whatever it is. You may not see it now, but the most valuable thing you are doing now is teaching your Son some great life lessons.

Best of luck!
 
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It takes time. The BBB says most new businesses fail the first year (or something like that). I began in 2015 w/ a 333 and saw my first profit in 2017. Real estate is a loser. I extended into construction panoramas and that's the bulk of my business.

Now, the issue of illegal operators is a different cat to skin. Some will tell you to ignore it. I will not. If I came across an unlicensed (or uncertificated) operator blowing off the rules I would report the business with all identifying info. to the FSDO. But that's just me.
 

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Unfortunately, Fred is right, Free doesn't make it legal.
And regarding your business dilemma, with the exception of a hand full of drone ops, this aerial business is a race to the bottom.

I posted this months ago after another member shared similar observations.

It’s mostly because of ilegel flyers that are willing to work for $50. I have stopped actively trying to compete. And refuse to go out for less than $800. So as not to be part of the race. I spent $120,000 on an RV and I told the manager since I have done business with him could I offer to fly over your RV park and get some really great shots. There was no rocket science involved in this job and probably only about an hour or so worth of work. But he was squarely in class B airspace so I offered for $300 as a courtesy to get the waiver, fly a phantom 4 pro low and slow and capture his lot. You guessed it, a month later I see a television commercial with aerial shots of this RV place actually let me call them out by name Albany RV. Turns out some dude came by for cheap and flew in surface to 2000 foot class B airspace higher than most of the plains actually come in over the top of this joint as he is at the foot of the approach runway.
Bottom line is as long as the FAA refuses to punish these people they will continue to out-compete us and you and I will remain in the race to the bottom. I if you are doing serious cinema work or tower inspections, a license, talent and insurance will win the day, but I am not seeing a lot of that work here. I for one do ok, because I already operate a video production company, so I just put the bird up as part of the production day and tack on $800 - $1,500 depending.

PS. If you want to see how severely this idiot broke all rules and was willing to endanger lives, here is the RV dealership that this bozo knocked out for $50. I took both of these pictures within 5 minutes of each other.
RVOne-Plane-2.jpgRVOne-Plane.jpg
 
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I bought an inpire 2 with the x4s and a crystalsky ultra in hopes that my son and I would start a business together.

I registered our business, started a bank account, got a website, and business cards.....we were set other than my part 107 license. We had started doing free jobs to get our name out and to start building a portfolio. We had a business plan and had settled on pricing and were going to remodel a room in the front of our house to serve as an office for.clients to come to.

Fast forward a couple of months and now it seems there are now 3-4 other people in our town flying drones that are offering their services.... however they only operate through Facebook, aren't part 107 certified, not a registered business, and will do ANYTHING people want including flying at night, flying over people, flying at sporting events over crowds in the bleachers, etc.....and all for like $50 a job.

How can someone that is legitimately trying to go about things the legal way compete against things like this?

It was so disheartening to find this out after investing so much time, effort, and money into this that I've all but given up hope and will probably sell.off all my stuff and cut my losses.
You did everything right except market research BEFORE purchasing your drone.

"Undercutting" has been a problem in the drone industry for a long time. And you nailed it. There are guys who will shoot for 50 bucks. There's just no way to compete with that. But there's good news....

If you produce a BETTER final product than your competition, you will probably find work. Your average Best Buy Weekend Warrior cranks out some pretty crappy video. Get good at what you do - which includes video editing and ground cinematography - and you can probably simply "out-quality" your competition in markets like commercial real estate, T.V. commercials, etc.

You may be looking at the wrong markets.

Right off the bat, residential real estate is a complete waste of time. I don't open a case for < $100. And that's a Mavic case, to be clear. Most real estate agents see a $100 invoice and they freak out. I have ONE residential real estate client that I have grandfathered in. He gives me an address, I shoot a battery's worth of video with my Mavic Pro, he comes to me to collect the footage and hands off a Ben. Other than that one guy, real estate agents are a PITA. So I got out of that market early on.

Commercial real estate can be better, but it requires much more skill than flying a drone. Producing good commercial real estate videos requires a myriad of photography / cinematic / editing skills that most drone operators don't even know exist, let alone understand, let alone possess. Those invoices are always $1,000 - $2,000.

Here's a video I produced five years ago with a mirrorless bridge camera and a GoPro mounted to a Phantom 1. This was a $2,000 invoice. I did everything; script (consulted with client), voice-over, editing, shooting...everything.


The point of showing you this is that clearly it's not the equipment that makes the video/photography company. I don't think I'll get any argument that a P1, GoPro, and Sony point-n-shoot is "professional" equipment. Needless to say, the client was very happy with the result and sold quite a few of the PLASI units.

"Story is king. Shoot with whatever you have at the moment." ~ Casey Neistat

If you don't fully and completely understand cinematography, you can pretty much eliminate film industry work from your repertoire. But there's more good news. There are other drone markets. I have personally found my niche in aerial mapping, construction progress videos and traffic analysis videos. Unlike the aforementioned markets, these markets do NOT require cinematic skills...though it DOES help to understand color, lighting, White Balance, exposure, etc. to insure continuity for deliverables.

That's the good news. The bad news is you have the wrong bird. While you can certainly do aerial mapping, traffic analysis and construction progress videos with an Inspire 2, I think you will find that it is way too much bird for those tasks. For that real estate guy I use a Mavic Pro. For mapping I use a P4P, and for construction progress I use my old, reliable Inspire 1. I only use the Inspire 1 because that's what I have used in the past and I don't want to retire the bird. I could probably do construction video with the P4P, but then I would have zero use for the ol' Inspire 1, which I still really like. But I digress....

My invoice benchmark is $100/hour. I always meet that mark and usually exceed it...sometimes more than double it. The bad news is that most of my clients can exceed net-90 or even net-120. It's not uncommon to take 6 months to get paid. As long as I'm made aware AHEAD of time, I have no problem with that but some guys do.

Some of my best invoices were for film, but those are long, hard days and I honestly did not fall in love with the film industry like a couple of my aerial buddies did. They do film all the time. They can have it.

I don't know where you live, so I don't know what markets are best in your area. So you may take all this with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: I almost forget... Sometimes it helps to partner up with local production companies. I have a couple I work with. I like these gigs because I simply shoot aerial. They do all the ground video, production, editing, etc. Here's one such collaboration:


As a result of this video, Citelum got the Abq. contract worth millions. All of this was shot within 3 miles of Class C. When we shoot inside commercial air space, the invoice goes way up. I was camera op for this particular video....shot with an Inspire 1 and X5.

Good luck.

D
 
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Great analysis and advice, Donnie. Think about how you can bundle the drone photography with another service, pretty much what Donnie has done.
I fly for a construction documentation services company. The UAS is a small (but important portion) of what we do. Fortunately, it is the part that I do. It is bundled with all our other photographic services that make it very hard for “trunk slammers” to compete. We do use an I 2 with (usually) an X 4S, but that is partly a marketing objective,. However, it also produces outstanding photography and video.

“What you lose on the Merry Go Round, you make up on the Ferris Wheel.”

Phillip
 
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Unfortunately, Fred is right, Free doesn't make it legal.
And regarding your business dilemma, with the exception of a hand full of drone ops, this aerial business is a race to the bottom.

I posted this months ago after another member shared similar observations.

It’s mostly because of ilegel flyers that are willing to work for $50. I have stopped actively trying to compete. And refuse to go out for less than $800. So as not to be part of the race. I spent $120,000 on an RV and I told the manager since I have done business with him could I offer to fly over your RV park and get some really great shots. There was no rocket science involved in this job and probably only about an hour or so worth of work. But he was squarely in class B airspace so I offered for $300 as a courtesy to get the waiver, fly a phantom 4 pro low and slow and capture his lot. You guessed it, a month later I see a television commercial with aerial shots of this RV place actually let me call them out by name Albany RV. Turns out some dude came by for cheap and flew in surface to 2000 foot class B airspace higher than most of the plains actually come in over the top of this joint as he is at the foot of the approach runway.
Bottom line is as long as the FAA refuses to punish these people they will continue to out-compete us and you and I will remain in the race to the bottom. I if you are doing serious cinema work or tower inspections, a license, talent and insurance will win the day, but I am not seeing a lot of that work here. I for one do ok, because I already operate a video production company, so I just put the bird up as part of the production day and tack on $800 - $1,500 depending.

PS. If you want to see how severely this idiot broke all rules and was willing to endanger lives, here is the RV dealership that this bozo knocked out for $50. I took both of these pictures within 5 minutes of each other.
View attachment 25848View attachment 25849
I am familiar with the area....that’s just stupid close and I wish somebody would hold these people responsible.
I live in the Adirondack mountains part of our year and Key West Florida for the rest. We run a full time filming business in key West that is all class C airspace or military. We have the only FAA Clearence other than the slocal sheriff. We constantly have people flying around....way to high....over people. The airport tower is frustrated and nothing gets done from FAA. Realistate is not even an option as most agencies have a cheap drone or only pay $50. Heck my Hull insurance cost more than most drone pilots gear. We use two modified inspire 2 on the ground and two more in the air.....we have found that flying over the ocean almost every day with expensive gear is nerve racking.Even with good insurance. We need a better solution to this problem......any one have something that worked where they are?
 
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hi everyone,
hi @HoosierAerials & son

its nice and it takes strong willing to post what did you say there in forums.

its the sad truth.

im rob, a photographer since well..my father is a photographer :). i live here in south Italy, Capri and Naples and sometimes in Africa.

I can tell that and im very lucky that i learnt from who was a photografer about..80 years ago , im young but lots of experience already and not enough still.
nowadays people of my same age thinks being a photographer, is cool, honestly they do not have even idea how much its cool, and how much more it was in the past...but past is past.

nowadays its mostly fake and just bussiness,smoke into eyes.
i've seen pro photographers kicked from canon since they didnt reach 70k followers on instagram. how ridiculous or mby not?
....your chachet today is not for your "pure skills at your job" but for all the services you offer and how much "famous" you are on socials, looking cool..or whatever position you have.

example : if an actor does an aerial shooting with his own crappy skills and crappy low quality drone people will buy it. WTH.
i cant understand it as photographer. but i can understand it as man who run a bussiness. people likes to be entertained..

its the same for the drone world. i mean here in italy its the same, people who fly totally illegal way and doesnt even know rules, they bought the drone at supermarket, lol. but they didnt buy an UAV.

do not get discouraged. but find your way..nothing easy.


....you know what? i hoped that tecnician job like (mapping,ambient survey ,thermal cameras and whatever you can put on a drone) was different world...
its relatively easy say hey look at me im a professional...well o_O if the guy next you buys your same equipment or even cheaper that makes him a professional as well?

experience is something that you cant buy.



im a photographer journalist, licensed drone pilot, camera operator, content creator.... i take pictures for a living... and yes i have to compete with illegal cheap (even for free photographers), illegal drone pilots...and it "seems" people that doesnt understand difference between pro and average.
..sick of reporting illegal pilots...they keep coming... in italy its the same thing, i heard from my collagues nothing different even in japan or australia.


truth is there are two GODs today. "i want everything now" and " money saving" i think about it often, skills and professionality not even close----> its all about if you look cool or not.



keep in mind your son is very very lucky.

from my side ii kept charging same price, and honestly at certain point of my career...i almost stopped for 2 years,.......went in another country...then come back.....after some time many clients told me , hey you charge more than other guys.... i couldnt afford it (most of the time was not true...sometimes yes, was the truth) ...as they pay an illegal pilot for cheap job...result...it was a bad job, pay off, bad experience made them come back at me and i keep charge the same amount, just little planned discounts to say the truth.

while my competition kept charge less...well they are now in financial troubles and they will sell everything. but im sure 200% some other guys will go for it ...even cheaper ..a proverb says If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by i've been waiting for 10 years . i've seen all of them. all that .... cheapness..if you are cheap you cant rise the price...and you will fall sooner or later. work to get better.

master something that they cheap pilots cant afford...and mby ask your son since he's younger and supposed to be innovative...try to investigate more about what's around you as other guys told.

i will myself do my move in 2020-2021...and i hope will be allright.

hope the same for every worth pilot here.



sorry for my bad english still learning it!

- btw inspire birds are awesome. lol!






in the end...just because i was discouraged didnt meant i let that go..now im starting over and feels great, plan everything not just your flights!


fly safe!

rob
 
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A couple things......Donnie is spot on, you have to outperform and overdeliver the wanna-be Instapros. Fortunately it's not hard to do. When I get the tire kickers and they tell me "so-and-so will do it for $50" I just tell them "good luck, if you're not happy with the results I'm willing to work with you to get the results you expect"..... and I've had folks come back to me very disappointed with the $50 deliverables. Of course, my price goes up to come in on short notice.....they should have booked me to begin with.

Good Photographers aren't cheap, and cheap Photographers aren't good.

Realize this: As a small business owner and Professional Photographer/Remote Pilot......actually taking pictures and flying are really only, "maybe", 10% of it. You'll spend at least 20% of your time managing the business....and what about the remaining 70%? Congratulations, you're a Marketer. Yep. That's the biggest part of the job. Marketing. You'll spend most of your time marketing your business. From maintaining and promoting your Social Media Marketing Machine, providing useful downloads for your Content Marketing Machine, updating SEO to keep at the top of search results....to working on your List (THE most valuable asset of the business).... you know, your client list, contact list, who you mail to, email to, call on the phone.....Your List also includes all the contacts you make on LinkedIn, those who Like your Facebook page, Follow you on Twitter....etc, etc......all of this is your List. The List is the LifeBlood of the business.

Accept that at least 70% of your time is Marketing and Creating Content......and do it way better than any of the cheap Instapros.....and things will start moving for you. It's just the ugly truth of operating a small business like this.

Of course, if you're lucky like some to win a big name contract that keeps you busy full time and is lengthy and lucrative.....well, not so much of the above applies......until the contract goes away......
 
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I love this forum, every time I come here I get an education.

Something Donny said resonates strongly with me, and that's the advice to overdeliver. I live in rural N. TX and so far I've not run into any losses due to illegal operators. I'm sure the day is coming. In the meantime, I have focused on delivering more than the customer is expecting. If they pay for 10 aerial shots I'll give them 15 to choose from. If they pay for 5 minutes of finished video runtime they get 6+. The thing that I think helps me is to deliver value, defined as high quality at a lower than expected price. The day may come when I can raise prices as my company's name gets out there; until then I plan to try in every job to surprise and delight my customers in the hopes they come back and use me again. Like everything I suppose, the old project management quote applies: "you can have it right, you can have it fast, you can have it cheap. Pick any two."
 
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Haha... rbycapri thank you for the kind words and making me laugh....I do love that proverb.
Yes my son is lucky...he knows it but he is a truly amazing editor and I am pretty smooth with a drone but he is even better. It’s because he works so hard at learning to edit and evolve as well as have a amazing understanding of film codecs....color science and lenses that I am willing to buy and build from scratch if need be the gear we need to impress our clients and put out work that we can be proud of.
Fred is right about the marketing thing.... half of the time we are working I set up a cam for behind the scenes to show just what we do.
Petah, you are totally right about going above and beyond the next guy with quality and content. I just had a discussion with my son as he is doing an edit tonight about pulling some cini DNG pics and editing those as well to the client we are finishing a project for tonight.They might appreciate some high Rez stills along with the videos we did for them. They didn’t ask for them we just added it in so they can share them or use them in brochures.
Once again...I really do appreciate this forum and the peace of mind and better understanding it brings.
Thanks,rob
 
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Haha... rbycapri thank you for the kind words and making me laugh....I do love that proverb.
Yes my son is lucky...he knows it but he is a truly amazing editor and I am pretty smooth with a drone but he is even better. It’s because he works so hard at learning to edit and evolve as well as have a amazing understanding of film codecs....color science and lenses that I am willing to buy and build from scratch if need be the gear we need to impress our clients and put out work that we can be proud of.
Fred is right about the marketing thing.... half of the time we are working I set up a cam for behind the scenes to show just what we do.
Petah, you are totally right about going above and beyond the next guy with quality and content. I just had a discussion with my son as he is doing an edit tonight about pulling some cini DNG pics and editing those as well to the client we are finishing a project for tonight.They might appreciate some high Rez stills along with the videos we did for them. They didn’t ask for them we just added it in so they can share them or use them in brochures.
Once again...I really do appreciate this forum and the peace of mind and better understanding it brings.
Thanks,rob
if we dont support each other who else will ?? actually reading your struggle..well i got the same there and im pretty far away from you and i guess all the guys over here. its just the way you approach it... not sure if its a chinese proverb but here's another one i like :

When the winds of change blow, some people build walls. while others build windmills.

i guess we all love/hate wind. i love it as it cleans the sky or cut the cloud edges...and make me think twice or even more if i want to fly or not!

sooner i will post my work as well,i espect lots of criticism and i think best way to improve its confrontation. not just skills, but creativity and ideas.
so im waiting to see what your son is working at !
@Black Sky

hope everyone agree, i will stick to the forum (thanks god i found it)
probably other people are reading , i encourage them to post 😁

anyway thank you for reply it made my day !
 
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Unfortunately, Fred is right, Free doesn't make it legal.
And regarding your business dilemma, with the exception of a hand full of drone ops, this aerial business is a race to the bottom.

I posted this months ago after another member shared similar observations.

It’s mostly because of ilegel flyers that are willing to work for $50. I have stopped actively trying to compete. And refuse to go out for less than $800. So as not to be part of the race. I spent $120,000 on an RV and I told the manager since I have done business with him could I offer to fly over your RV park and get some really great shots. There was no rocket science involved in this job and probably only about an hour or so worth of work. But he was squarely in class B airspace so I offered for $300 as a courtesy to get the waiver, fly a phantom 4 pro low and slow and capture his lot. You guessed it, a month later I see a television commercial with aerial shots of this RV place actually let me call them out by name Albany RV. Turns out some dude came by for cheap and flew in surface to 2000 foot class B airspace higher than most of the plains actually come in over the top of this joint as he is at the foot of the approach runway.
Bottom line is as long as the FAA refuses to punish these people they will continue to out-compete us and you and I will remain in the race to the bottom. I if you are doing serious cinema work or tower inspections, a license, talent and insurance will win the day, but I am not seeing a lot of that work here. I for one do ok, because I already operate a video production company, so I just put the bird up as part of the production day and tack on $800 - $1,500 depending.

PS. If you want to see how severely this idiot broke all rules and was willing to endanger lives, here is the RV dealership that this bozo knocked out for $50. I took both of these pictures within 5 minutes of each other.
View attachment 25848View attachment 25849
Was this reported to the FSDO? You have all the evidence....frightening....
 
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If they pay for 10 aerial shots I'll give them 15 to choose from.
The only reason I even put a limit on photos is to set expectations. You don't know what the customer wants...and neither to they most of the time. So I find 25 shots of any given commercial property covers ANYTHING they could possibly want. As an added bonus, I always shoot bracketed photos, so they get 3 exposures of each shot. Because what may not be important to me (blowing out a white roof on a commercial building so that I can properly expose the rest of the shot) may be important to them (showing off that new, white roof). That said, I don't post-process because that is very time consuming, and most customers are NOT willing to pay $100/hour to have their photos processed. This takes me to part 2; "Feeling out the customer." If they're a real estate agent who doesn't want to screw with post-production, I'll shoot 16:9 with "normal" saturation. If they're a little more photography savvy, I'll shoot D-Log 4:3 aspect ratio. Asking the customer these simple questions can make all the difference in the world. Because Lord knows, they won't VOLUNTEER that information.

I guess my point is that "more isn't necessarily better." What is "better" is finding out if you're dealing with a photographer who doesn't own a drone, or a real estate agent who just wants to copy and paste photos to their website.




If they pay for 5 minutes of finished video runtime they get 6+.
Well...not to belay your point, but human attention span for real estate video is 2 minutes, 3 tops. I'll make a video as long as the customer wants, but I rarely get any push back when I strongly recommend 2 minutes, not 5 or 10. If one can't get all information about a property out there in 2 minutes, then they're doing something wrong.


The thing that I think helps me is to deliver value, defined as high quality at a lower than expected price.
I ALWAYS sell "value." I NEVER sell cheap. I read an article about this once. They used a Mercedes as an example, citing that a Mercedes is a car just like a Nova. But Mercedes holds their value because that is what they sell.

A couple other business paradigms that really helped:

1) Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.

2) If you're not losing half your bids, you're bidding too low.



The day may come when I can raise prices as my company's name gets out there; until then I plan to try in every job to surprise and delight my customers in the hopes they come back and use me again.
I don't make a mint when I shoot, but my benchmark is $100/hour with a 1-hour minimum. That's what I shoot for and if a customer wants to nail me to the cross on price with zero concern for ANY other facet of photography or videography, that's the number I give them. I find that potential clients that primarily focused on price (FIRST question they ask), there's a good chance I won't be working for them. If price is the ONLY question they ask, I DEFINITELY will NOT be working for them. If they balk on the price, I probably don't want them as a customer anyway. I won't even open a case for < $100. I don't mind the $100-$200 jobs because they're always under an hour. So I feel I'm being compensated fairly.





Like everything I suppose, the old project management quote applies: "you can have it right, you can have it fast, you can have it cheap. Pick any two."
HA! Funny I wrote that above before I read this!

D
 
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I bought an inpire 2 with the x4s and a crystalsky ultra in hopes that my son and I would start a business together.

I registered our business, started a bank account, got a website, and business cards.....we were set other than my part 107 license. We had started doing free jobs to get our name out and to start building a portfolio. We had a business plan and had settled on pricing and were going to remodel a room in the front of our house to serve as an office for.clients to come to.

Fast forward a couple of months and now it seems there are now 3-4 other people in our town flying drones that are offering their services.... however they only operate through Facebook, aren't part 107 certified, not a registered business, and will do ANYTHING people want including flying at night, flying over people, flying at sporting events over crowds in the bleachers, etc.....and all for like $50 a job.

How can someone that is legitimately trying to go about things the legal way compete against things like this?

It was so disheartening to find this out after investing so much time, effort, and money into this that I've all but given up hope and will probably sell.off all my stuff and cut my losses.
By doing work for free and being unlicensed you become part of the problem. I did everything you did but got my license and people like you take the business from legitimate pilots trying to make a living. Get your license, and charge a below market price and make sure you are insured (Verifly) will sell per job insurance if you are licensed. Join us, we will welcome you with open arms.
 

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