Starting a new business isn’t easy: From incorporation to accounting, hiring employees or contractors, investing in software, and setting up your systems, there’s so much to think about. And most of it isn’t directly related to the reason you started a business in the first place.
Lately, we’ve been hearing from a lot of first-time entrepreneurs who are launching drone businesses. On a recent Skyward webinar, we asked nearly 400 attendees about their biggest business challenges. Here’s what they had to say:First up? Navigating regulations – no surprise in such a new industry with quickly changing rules.
But marketing comes in a close second, with more than a third of entrepreneurs identifying it as their biggest business challenge. Over and over again, people ask us, “How do I market my drone business?” or “How do I find new customers?”
Here’s the bad news: There is no short answer. I’ve devoted my career to marketing, and I still learn something new every day.
Here’s the good news: Creating a strategy – and following through – will give you a place to start and help you understand where to dedicate your resources, both time and money.
Step 1: Identify your customer.
If you specialize in aerial surveying or wind turbine inspection, this will be relatively easy. However, if you’re a drone pilot-for-hire, the answer may seem wide open. But trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for failure (because it’s impossible).
So, think about your strengths, your weaknesses, your interests and the area where you live.
If you live in Beverly Hills or Westchester County, N.Y., you may find a ready market for luxury real estate photography. In that case, your customers will likely be high-end Realtors. If you live in the heartland and most people you know work in agriculture, you might think about going into infrared crop imaging. The applications for commercial drone operations are numerous and are expanding all the time – which means your opportunities are, as well.
Step 2: What problems are you solving for your customer?
Too many businesses focus a ton of time and energy on educating the customer. Big mistake. Your customers don’t want to be educated; they want their problems solved. The difference? Getting educated feels like a lot of work; if you’re solving a problem I have, that feels like I suddenly have less work.
So, find out what problems your customers know they have, and be super clear about how you’re solving them.
Are you doing something entirely new? Or are you doing something faster and cheaper than it’s been done until now? Make your value clear, whether it’s in person or on your website, social media page or flier.
Step 3: Meet your customers, and ask a lot of questions.
I said before that education feels like a lot of work. But you should spend a lot of time educating… yourself.
Networking events, online forums, meet-ups, conferences, the local diner – learning about your customers is key. Depending on your industry, these are all great ways to find out if your customer base knows they have the problem you identified in Step 2. How are they solving it now? What solutions are they using? What are their goals? They may surprise you.
And in the process of having these conversations, there’s a chance you’ll build rapport and gain a customer.
Step 4: Talk to your customers in their own language.
Every industry has its own jargon. This can work against you (if you use your own), or it can work for you (if you talk like your customers).
If your business’ website is your main form of marketing, use terms that are meaningful to your customers on your homepage. For example, if you’ve identified that your customers are mostly real estate agents, you might choose a website header that says “Drone Real Estate Photography in Miami” rather than “Miami Drones.”
If you have the resources to maintain a blog, you can use it to showcase your work, but be sure to focus on addressing problems that you know your customers have.
The same concept applies if you meet your potential customers at networking events, trade shows or the local diner.
Step 5: Don’t discount the channels used by other businesses.
LinkedIn, Craigslist, Twitter, Facebook and even Angie’s List are some of the main ways that customers find solutions to their business problems.
Step 6: Be a pro.
We all know that word of mouth can make or break a business. If you’re a pro every step of the way, your clients will recommend you to others, without any time or expense on your part.
So, what does it mean to be a pro in the drone industry? It means operating safely (and showing your customers that you do). It means having insurance, just like professionals in other industries. It means meeting regulatory requirements.
Little things can make a huge impact – filling out a scope of work in advance, for example, will show your customers that you take them seriously.
This article, the first part in a series, is adapted from a blog post by Erin Olsen, director of marketing at Skyward, a Portland, Ore.-based provider of an information management platform for commercial drone operators.