This blog post could easily have the title why drone operators are worth the fee’s they ask or how to value yourself and your business. It seems that because there are now thousands of operators in the UK being trained for a small amount of work that everyone is undercutting and you could say ‘oh that is market forces’ but let me explain why actually once you just undercut you are undermining a whole new industry. It is important to be competitive but also don’t sell yourself to the bottom rates.
I have been in business for over 15 years, even if I haven’t been running my own company, I have always had a sideline. I have learnt so much in that time one is to value the service I provide to others and they will value you too. I am member of BECTU and there are minimum day rates issued for camera operators, make up artists and all different grades across all different types of activities TV, Film and advertising. What is not included is drone operator / Drone companies.
Like other businesses we need to take into account the following and this is then how you work out how much your day rate should be. What you shouldn’t be doing is finding out how much else someone is charging and thinking ‘I will do it for half or seventy five percent of that.’ You are not Ikea, Lidl or some other budget high street offer. Those companies use economies of scale and market forces and lost leaders to get customers through the door, also it can be highlighted about how the exploit some suppliers. You can not do that as a drone operator offering lost leaders, you can only fly for so many days of the year and you can only fly once in a day unless you are so lucky you get jobs grouped together. You have paid a significant amount for your training, you have put hours in learning about the law, you have stood for hours flying to make yourself a skilled drone pilot. You have paid CAA fees and you have paid for insurance and the drone and all the accessories.
It isn’t possible to do for a cheap rate and then start to increase it doesn’t work like that.
Here is my formula and how work out my day rate for all my work strands.
First of all the drone how much does that cost, say you plan to fly 10 professional jobs a year. (Yes you may not fly as much as you are being told by NQE’s. ) so divide that drone by 10 . That is how much it costs you to fly it for the day. Alternatively you could price based on hire prices with Heliguy
Lets take the example on Heliguy’s hire prices it’s £245 per day for an Inspire 2. That is the basic set up you may have more than the basic set up i.e more batteries
Then are you charging travel or travel time? That will tend to be something that is down to yourself. I tended to charge mileage but now a lot of my projects now only do fuel contribution and so for me to go to Peak district to Birmingham they give me £25 fuel allowance. That is actually probably what fuel it actually takes you can use google to calculate the proper costs for the car / van you drive.
What about planning a job? This now can take me anywhere between a couple of hours if standard flight planning and bespoke risk assessment (RA) as a new drone operator this may take you half a day. This is not the flight planning that the NQE’s teach this is more as you have to think about where you are taking off, and where you are landing in relation to your directors filming requirements. Also you will find some production companies want a bespoke risk assessment for their insurance / H&S department. I have been writing these for years now but I did a very low risk drone job on the moors in April and I had to write documents taking a full day to complete. You need to factor that time in. This is a difficult one as this I did not expect and it was because the company had strict H&S department it was time I had not allowed. Had I known the charge would have been higher.
Micro SD cards are you adding the price to the job, I have started to and then the client get’s to keep it. I have had too many being stolen in the post. For this example it would be £30 as I use very high speed cards. Unless data wrangling is taking place on set.
Insurance let’s say £1000 and divide that by 10 pro jobs you are hoping do in your first year.
Can you see how now you might be under charging?
Micro SD card £30
Time Planning £75
Costs so far £375 – this will vary for you may have different value drone/ drones.
The costs above for your day rate are not including any training, your skills you have learnt and need to value, drone spares, batteries and props, drone maintenance, training, website, office supplies, accountant fees, holiday fees. Spare drone, what happens if you crash your one drone or for some reason it doesn’t fly do you have contingency as the shoot still needs to go ahead. Unless it is due to weather or perhaps legal reasons you need to maintain your professional reputation or create a good reputation if you are starting out.
Not all drone companies are equal, there are people who have better drones who have been flying years, they fly bigger drones than you, they have different skill set and an perhaps and enhanced OSC (operating safety case). All this is going to factor into the day rate.
Production companies do forget this about any freelancer there are costs the day rates are not plucked out of the air if you pardon the pun. Part of the responsibly of value comes down to you as well. Please don’t undervalue what you do, don’t undervalue what others are doing.
I hope this helps anyone pricing their jobs if that is a camera operator, film maker or creative. It is very difficult when you perhaps don’t have actual physical raw materials that are then manufactured into a physical object to find the price point.
I bet if you sit and work out about your costs you will actually think my goodness I am selling my skills cheap!
Food for thought. I am sure there are things that I haven’t mentioned. I am sure you are now going to say but you can only get what the market will pay. Yes but equally the cheaper you go the less all drone operators will be paid.
TV companies are being pushed more and more to produce more content for less money, so day rates are being squeezed in all sectors. I have a good understanding of this. I think equally people doing the hiring of freelancers need to also understand the costs involved in being a freelancer.
A production company contacted me earlier in the year they wanted a drone for the whole day in Leicester and had been given my details as a recommendation for the grand fee of £150. Let’s put it in perspective a freelance TV runner is paid £125 to £150 per day. I could have sent and email that explained all the above but my simple reply was “the fee you are offering is not reflecting the skills nor the equipment that I operate.” The day after I got a booking on the same day at my proper day rate.
This brings me to half day rates, if you take that lower rate that half day what happens when a full booking comes in? Do you commit to that cheaper booking or go for the full rate? That is why a lot of freelancers are considered flakey and mess around production companies around. I have a good reputation that once I commit to a day that might be as a film maker or white label drone operation for another company, I don’t let people down.
For those that say our budget is only £150 for a drone operator, I say well then you can’t afford a drone for your production then. I would never say to a plumber I want a new bathroom can you do it for free or a very low rate it is good for your portfolio or for a good social media post.
You may choose to fly for your favourite charitable cause for free, I sometimes do things I want to, but I tell those that are working for the charity what it would cost them so that they can value the skills you are giving them.
Please feel to write comments below on what you feel about day rates being driven lower, what I have missed out of this post.
Have a great day
The Drone Lass