Preston owns and operates Jensen Air part-time in North Dakota, working with real estate agents, universities and development companies to differentiate himself in a seasonal market.
David: “Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your business and what you do?
Preston started his drone business on the side. He defined himself as different than other drone business owners because his customer base was already in place. His brother—a real estate broker for Remax—needed someone to do commercial drone footage. Preston did a little research, figured he could do it and “pulled the trigger” on studying to fly a drone. Preston’s first drone was a Mavic Air, and has since upgraded to a Mavic Zoom, which handles the wind in North Dakota much better. Preston has a YouTube channel and recently aired a video on the remote ID—a big topic for drone pilots these days. Preston understands needing to keep the sky safe but believes it’s making the playing field uneven for a small drone operators.
David: “When did you first get started in drones?
Two years ago, he started strictly doing drone photography for real estate for his brother. Once he got his license, he thought he may as well turn it into a business. He created a Facebook page and website. He’s continued to put out content, and his business has been getting more attention:
“You’ve got to put out a little free content so people can see what you’re capable of. You have to differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd. The more you spread your work around, the more people will find out about you and hire you.”
Now, Preston has premiere customers, including a local university and a development company. However, when he first put together some footage, he had to figure out what video editing software to use, how to get videos to customers, etc. These things were big learning experiences. He began just taking video clips and photos and giving real estate agents raw footage to make their own videos, although he would still make sure the clips were very cinematic. He likes to see how creative people can get with his shots.
David: “Up in your neck of the woods, what would you charge for a typical real estate shoot where you’re doing photos and video clips without any editing?”
Preston charges $200, which is about ½ hour of shooting but editing and color grading afterward is what takes all the time. He uses Canva, Photoshop and Lightroom as his main editing tools. If he’s doing just photos, he charges about $150, but if it’s multiple photos or panoramas, he’ll charge $200. For a single photo or refresh on a house, he’ll usually charge $50. If he has travel out to rural areas, he’ll also charge a travel fee. Lastly, before he sends his drone up to shoot, he scans the yard to make everything look nice, which realtors appreciate.
David: “Do you stay pretty busy—especially in wintertime or freezing conditions, which are not ideal drone or real estate selling weather?”
Preston says the busy season is spring to fall; most of the activities slow down in the wintertime because the cold weather is hard on the equipment, specifically the battery. Also, realtors have better luck selling with photos that have lush green grass and trees—not snow pictures.
David: “Have you found real estate to be successful? Have you expanded into other areas or are you sticking with that niche for now?”
Although Preston says he’s sticking with the niche of real estate because it’s given him so much business over the past couple of years, he’s still willing to expand. For example, he’s interested in mapping, because he’s always nervous about the accuracy of the drone mapping. He’s also been talking to a local radio station trying to get into radio tower inspections. However, right now, he says, he costs a lot of money for them.
David: “During your busy season—and only on the real estate side—how busy do you get? How many jobs are you getting per month?”
Sometimes he may be swamped and doing a drone job over his lunch hour, sometimes not. He’s always taking photos and putting content up on Instagram and Facebook. His town flooded a little bit this past fall and he took pictures and posted it to a “What’s Happening?” page in Valley City. The last time he checked, the site had 19,000 views, so it was an easy way to get great exposure. Sometimes he gets random calls – like someone wanting to borrow a clip for a promotional video, which was free advertising.
David: “You’re doing this on the side of your regular job. You said you work as an office manager during the day—how has that helped you on the business side of drones?”
It has really helped him save money. He can’t just buy the most expensive video editing software. He has to take that into consideration, especially if just doing it as a side gig. Drone insurance was also difficult to find around where he lives. He now pays monthly for Skywatch so when it’s cold or nasty outside, he doesn’t have to pay for insurance. He pays for extra coverage with DJI and has liability insurance through the company. He used Squarespace to build his website and pays only $15-20 bucks per month for the site. He’s also taken advantage of Fiverr for design work.
“I keep dumping all the money that I’ve made from my drone business back into the company—I keep improving software and equipment. I keep building myself up and making it better. If everybody else is improving what they’re doing, you’re gonna get left behind.”
David: “For people at the beginning or just interested in listening to what others are doing— what would you recommend if they want a drone business but aren’t sure where to start.”
Preston says the first thing to do is start studying for the Part 107. He says that will open doors—but it’s not going to guarantee business. You have to go out and get that.
“Be optimistic because there are many different avenues to make money with drones—mapping agricultural, public safety, all sorts of things. There’s new technology coming out every day to make money from.”
Another thing he says to do is to set up an artist’s gallery on your website and throw up photos that people can order—HD, metal prints, canvases, any professional printing options.
David: “Are people reaching out to you asking to be able to use footage that you already have?”
Yes, I’ve had people contact me about using photos for their website, or as a background for Facebook. I said to go ahead and use it because it’s free advertising. Preston says most of his traction comes from Facebook and Instagram.
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