So you just got your drone license and first drone and are wondering how much you should charge for mapping services to maintain a profit. How much should you charge for drone mapping?
The average price for drone mapping is $100 to $240 per hour and $800 and $1,500 per day. However, prices will vary depending on your equipment, deliverables, skills, certifications, and location.
Please keep reading to learn more about charging for drone mapping services, the various methods of charging for such services, and some of the tools you will need.
How much should I charge for drone mapping?
The charges for drone mapping services aren’t set in stone.
As already mentioned, prices will vary greatly depending on where you are, your skills, your clients, and many other factors.
Let’s look at each factor you need to consider when coming up with a price for your services.
Training and certification
You must first consider the training and certifications you need and how much they cost first and foremost.
Ideally, you should have more than a Part 107 license when offering drone mapping services. You may need some skills in GIS, remote sensing, map making, and hands-on skills using the various mapping software available.
I found it easier to go with drone mapping because I have a Geography, GIS, and Remote Sensing degree, but I still had to take courses locally and online on platforms like DroneU and Drone Launch Academy.
Now, you may not need a degree to start drone mapping, but you need to take courses to make sure you specialize in this niche and set yourself apart as a drone mapper.
The more skills and certifications you have, the more you will attract clients who are willing to pay a reasonable price for the service.
You also need to consider the equipment you will use for your work and how much it costs.
An intermediate-level drone for mapping such as a DJI Phantom 4 Pro or Mavic 2 Pro costs less than $2,000 and is only capable of basic-level mapping.
But serious mapping equipment, such as the DJI Matrice drones, will cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000.
Besides the drone, you also need to consider the payloads and accessories such as the RTKs, LiDAR, thermal cameras, handheld GPS, ground stations, total stations, and anything else you may need to complete the project.
If you only have the Phantom 4 Pro, you obviously can’t charge the same as a guy with a DJI Matrice drone. However, you may get a project needing such a sophisticated system.
In such a case, don’t turn the job down because you have a smaller drone. That’s because it’s not always about the equipment you have but the service you offer. You can hire sophisticated equipment or partner with another company and charge for the project accordingly.
Another vital factor to consider is deliverables. The outputs you provide to your clients and what they will use them for can help you figure out how much to charge.
The most common deliverables I’ve come across are orthomosaics, point clouds, DTMs, DSMs, and 3D models. Clients can also ask for NDVIs, overlays, or any other type of data they can analyze.
This is why I said you need to get training first to learn the types of deliverables drone mapping clients want and how to package those variables.
Some deliverables only require acquiring the aerial images, but others require further processing. The more work that’s needed to create the deliverable, the more you get to charge for it.
Note: Don’t overpromise on the deliverables you offer. Deliverables often depend on the drone you have and the software.
A Mavic 2 Pro may not be as accurate as a DJI Matrice, for instance. And free software may not give good data as paid software.
Since drone mapping clients rely on the data, make it clear what you can do based on the equipment you have and your skills. If you have to, hire the necessary equipment for the job at hand.
Besides the drone and the payloads, you also need to consider the software you will use and its costs.
The most common software for mapping I’ve used is Pix4D and DroneDeploy. Both allow you to automate data acquisition and process the data into various deliverables. You can produce anything from simple maps to complex 3D models using GCPs.
But these programs are costly; Pix4D starts at $291 per month while DroneDeploy starts at $327 per month.
You may also need an ArcGIS license which may cost more than $500 a year, but you can always start with QGIS, which is open source and works almost the same as ArcGIS.
You can find other cheaper software out there too, but if you can find clients who can pay top dollar, you need to have software that provides deliverables worth their money.
When pricing your projects for the month, this is a cost you have to keep in mind.
Many new drone pilots often don’t consider this, but you will need insurance to operate your drone business.
Your equipment could get stolen or damaged when working. Without insurance, you will have to pay for repairs or replacements out-of-pocket.
It would be best if you also had insurance because when your drone crashes, it may cause damage to another person’s property or even cause injuries, and the insurance can help take care of that.
Drone insurance for a $1 million coverage costs $500 to $1,000. But if you are starting out and are not willing or unable to pay for the entire year, you can get the same coverage for a month and only pay $30 to $100 for that month.
Every business must spend a certain amount of money daily to operate.
Since a drone business is quite mobile, you will realize that you will spend a lot on travel, and this cost has to be included in the pricing.
Other business expenses to consider are hiring equipment you don’t have, salaries and allowances for your staff if you have any, licenses and authorizations to operate the drone, and rent for the physical space, among others.
You need marketing if you want your business to grow, which is why you must always factor it in when pricing your services.
You can always start with marketing services like creating sample mapping projects and posting them on YouTube or on your blog.
Eventually, you will need to invest in SEO to help you rank for the services you provide and pay for ads on Google, Facebook, and any other platform you want to market yourself.
To maintain a good ROI while spending on marketing, identify your target clients, where they spend most of their time, and advertise your services there.
And lastly, you need to consider how much your competition is charging.
Since you are new to the industry, consider charging lower than the competition but not too low so that you ruin the business for everyone else.
The lowest you should charge should be 15 percent below the standard market value as you build your portfolio and reputation.
Unfortunately, you will find drone pilots charging as low as $100 for a job that should cost $500, making it difficult to charge what your services are worth.
How to charge for drone mapping
When pricing your service, a general rule of thumb is to add up all the costs you incur to provide the service and add an amount that should be your profit margin.
A profit margin should range between five and 20 percent. You can study local market news to identify the ideal profit margin while also considering how much your competitors charge.
Once you have a certain amount in mind, consider one of the following pricing models.
Price per acre
This model mainly works for those offering mapping to agricultural entities because the landowner knows how many acres of land they’ve got.
In such a case, you consider all the factors mentioned above, then figure out the work that will need to be done, and come up with a price per acre of land.
If you’re dealing with vast tracts of land, pricing per acre allows you to give a discount per acre.
Pricing per hour
This is the most common pricing model since most of the mapping jobs you will find can be completed in a day. In this case, you will still need to factor in everything above, then come up with a rate per hour.
Pricing per day
If you find that the job will take a few days, you can consider how many hours you can work each day and how much you would have charged per hour, then come up with a discounted day rate that will be fair for both of you.
Price per project
This is the best pricing model since you often can’t tell how long a project will take, and there might be retakes and additions to the projects along the way.
Charging per project gives you more freedom to package your work, more flexibility when dealing with multiple clients, and chances for a higher ROI when you guarantee the client what you will be delivering to them and actually deliver it.
When charging per project, you can also increase your ROI by offering a higher price to complete the project in a shorter time.
In cases where the client needs extra deliverables or deliverables from equipment you don’t have, you can come up with a custom quote to cover all of the extras.
Price per deliverable
There are cases where clients only need one deliverable, be it a map, point cloud, a 3D module, or an orthomosaic.
In such a case, you will need to consider the software you will use, how much it costs, and the work involved, and come up with a price for the specific deliverable.
How much are drone pilots charging for drone mapping?
As mentioned earlier, your competition should help you determine how much you should charge.
This data may be sparse and may vary depending on where you are. The best thing to do is contact local companies and see their deliverables and how much they charge.
Some may have revealed it on their website, while others have not. You may need to reach out to those who haven’t.
A survey conducted by AirStoc and DroneDeploy shows that, on average, drone pilots offering drone mapping can charge higher.
On average, they found that drone pilots offering drone mapping have a GIS certification and a $1 million insurance coverage can charge $100 to $240 per hour.
Those with certifications and higher insurance coverage charged more. But this data was collected between 2017 and 2020. Things have likely changed, and you need to do your due diligence to ensure you charge appropriately.
More tips for charging for your drone mapping service
One thing that many drone pilots need to remember when offering a service is that they are running a business. As a result, they fail to acquaint themselves with how a business is run.
Whether you have been doing it for a while or are just getting started, below are more things to do to grow your drone mapping business.
- Analyze your profitability every month – You need to check your financial statements every month to see your business’s profitability or lack thereof.
- Test different models – It’s ideal to test different pricing models, deliverable packages, and prices to find out the best way to maintain a profit.
And there you have it. A lot goes into knowing how much you should charge for drone mapping or any other drone service. But I hope this guide clears everything up.
Here are some key points to remember:
- Consider the initial costs, such as training, equipment, software, and insurance.
- Consider the deliverables you want to offer and other business expenses.
- Don’t undercut your competitors.
- Refrain from lying about the deliverables you can offer.
- Collaborate with other pilots to access better equipment and maintain a conducive business environment where each one can grow.
- Test different prices and packages.