Drone to 1K Season 2 / Episode 1: Andrew Hicks from SkyPix Aerial Photography

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Andrew, a Drone Pilot with SkyPix Aerial Photography, started flying drones 5 years ago, about a year ago, he decided to build a business to make some extra money. Andrew says, “Aerial photography isn’t so big in winter so I didn’t start to get business the summer. But this winter, I’ve lined up clients through spring of next year.” By the way, Andrew is a senior in high school. Andrew bought his first drone for $50 when he was 13. He then got a Parrot Bebop2 which he loved but wasn’t pleased with the pictures. He later bought, and still uses, a Maverick2 Pro.” David agreed “Cheaper drones can get you interested and lead to more. My first drone was a Syma X5C so when someone wants my advice on their first drone, I say, ‘Get a Syma X5Cs on Amazon for $40. They’re super light and when you need to land, you just cut the power and it flows to the ground’.”

David: “What was it that sparked you to say, ‘I need to make some money doing this’? Did you target realtors when you started? Tell us about your original business plan starting out.”

When Andrew could get his Part 107 license at 16, he got a nicer drone for taking pictures and videos. He thought, “Why not get a license, work and bring in some extra money to travel and save for college?” Andrew agreed to take pictures for a golf course in return for them putting it on their social media and tagging him. The job was unpaid, but got him clients and followers—basically, they advertised for him. Last summer, the most impactful thing he did was message a drone company in Chicago to ask for advice about getting clients. They told him to find a local real estate photographer and offer aerial photography to them. So that’s what he did. 

David: “Are you just doing photography or are you doing video too? Do you charge separately for videos? Do you also edit?”

Andrew says he takes as many pictures or videos as he can in 30-45’ to give clients a lot to choose from. If he has to fly from one spot to another, that’s a video. He does some editing but outsources most of it to a company in Vietnam for a very affordable price. For pictures with some videos and no editing he charges $100, slightly more for editing and/or any location farther than 30’ from home.

David: “Regarding your approach to the golf course, did you say, ‘I’m going to get my name out there’, and then Googled ‘golf courses in my area’ and contacted them? How did you specifically start to make that happen?”

While flying one day, Andrew took pictures of a golf course across the road from his school which he posted to IG and tagged. When they responded that they loved his pictures through Instagram, he requested a contact. He sent them an EM saying, “I’m starting this company, I’m insured and licensed. Can I come to your golf course and take pictures for your social media?” They agreed, so Andrew took and edited pictures and sent them over (They still post his pictures). Since then, Andrew’s process has become simple…he finds contact information online and reaches out. At this point, though, he has a whole portfolio so he’s not offering his services for free.

David: “Tell us more about the paying clients that you got from free work. Were they members of the golf course or people from the neighborhood who saw it on social media and reached out?”

Andrew got two clients from the first golf course who were from the neighborhood. At first, they followed the golf course on IG. Then, they followed Andrew, reaching out to him later through there. They wanted pictures of the golf course for their home; he charged them $125 for 4×2 & 5×7 pictures. With printing costing $30, he made $95 from each job.

David: “So after getting paying clients from the golf course, how did you expand into real estate? Did you try and fail and then reach out to that company in Chicago or is that the first thing you did? Walk us through when you started shifting to real estate.”

Andrew replied, “The first real estate job I had was in July before I reached out to that company in Chicago. I brought business cards to my school’s career day, and went up to a broker from a large commercial real estate firm who spoke and said, ‘I just started doing aerial photography for real estate. Here’s my card.’ He said thank you—nothing more. In July he reached out to ask me to do a 500-acre farm. I was so excited because I thought they would give me more work if I did good.” The work took four hours and he charged $585: $400 for the time, $185 for editing and a 5-minute video (at that point, he had no idea what to charge so he made it up). Now, Andrew gets one $200-$500 real estate job per month. During busy months, Andrew averages 5-10 jobs a week, which is $2000 to $4,000 a month. During slow months, he often has 2 jobs a week, making $1,200 a month.

David: “How much detail do you add to videos…Music? Narration? Overlay text?”

He uses Litchi to map out his flight 10 minutes beforehand and then creates automated flight video going around the property for 40 minutes, taking video clips and pictures of the house. For video, he starts off with a title/address and puts it to music.

David: “What other ways have you found effective to get clients? I know you also reached out to a real estate photographer. Talk about that a little bit.”

Essentially, Andrew Googled “real estate photographer, Frederick, MD,” and found one company to email, saying “I do aerial photography, and I would love to be the person you hire.” When he sent his portfolio, they’d said other people had charged a lot more than him and their work wasn’t as good, so he was hired! Later when Andrew posted/tagged pics of big hotel chains, when they said “This is amazing. We love this”, he said it was a big confidence booster.

David: “For your company, did you set up the SkyPix name as an LLC with a bank account or is that just kind of a name you chose to?”

Since he’s under 18, the name is a trade name. When 18, he’ll create an LLC. Andrew keeps track of all payments, using Square for invoices and a Google spreadsheet to keep track of everything he spends.

David: “Where do you see things headed? Will you stay in real estate, or with golf courses, or try to expand into other things? Will you build a team? What does the future look like for you?”

Andrew wants to start a drone pilot network, like drone ERs. He’ll be working with a development team to develop the platform and do his marketing. He’s moving to Orlando, so right now he’s training somebody in Maryland to keep doing work there (right now, this person is studying to get their Part 107 license with Drone Launch Academy). Once he moves to Orlando, Andrew will reach out to real estate agents. He’d eventually like to get into mapping and infrared, but doesn’t have the money saved up right now to put towards something like an Inspire 2 with a special camera.”

Resources

Website: www.skypixap.com

Instagram: @skypixap

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