Kara Murphy drone entrepreneur DJI Mavic

How to become the best drone entrepreneur

Kara Murphy drone entrepreneur
Image courtesy of Kara Murphy.

The words drone and entrepreneur go together like peanut butter and jelly — yet few exemplify the combo more than Kara Murphy. Murphy is an accomplished drone pilot, on top of being a wonderfully artistic photographer and editor, as well as a writer and journalist covering the drone industry. In a nutshell, no one embodies drone entrepreneur like Murphy.

Her photos have been featured The Sun UK, the Telegraph, and the Mirror. She’s a key component in the book “Masters of Drone Photography.” You can read her work on many sites, including DPReview. She’s a famous face in the drone industry, and has been a host and judges at events like AirVūz and the Boston Drone Film Festival.

Recently she relaunched her own business, Aerial Print Shop, where she sells her stunning aerial photos as art. (By the way, now through the end of the year, Murphy is offering all Drone Girl readers a discount of 25% off any print with the coupon code “dronegirl”.)

How do you do it all? Channel your best drone entrepreneur. It’s not a new concept to the drone industry, which has worked hard to raise investor money, overcome legal hurdles, and win over skeptical public attitudes.

Murphy shares her learnings over the year in a Q&A with Drone Girl (note: this interview has been edited for clarity and length):

Drone Girl: What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for someone who wants to be a drone entrepreneur?

Kara Murphy: Diversify your income stream. Don’t rely solely on one or two clients and/or sources for your livelihood. Having several streams means that if one goes away, you can still remain afloat. It also gives you the flexibility to turn down projects that aren’t an ideal fit or don’t make sense for your brand.

DG: Being a drone entrepreneur is a challenge on its own, but I understand you’ve overcome some other major challenges recently.

KM: I still find it a bit surreal that a hobby morphed into all this. When I was diagnosed with Stage 3c colon cancer last May 2019, one thought came to mind immediately: I am so fortunate to finally have a roster of clients that I respect and truly enjoy working with on projects. It wasn’t always that way in the 6+ years I’ve been running my own business. And the quality and challenges of my work helped me get through cancer first followed by COVID lockdowns. It alleviated a lot of the brutality I had to overcome.

DG: One thing that frequently comes up, especially with newbies, is how much to charge — and when it’s acceptable to work for free or cheap ‘for exposure.’

KM: Make sure you establish your rates and stick to them. It’s okay to offer a range of packages and pricing but make sure you communicate that you have the equipment, experience, insurance, and other elements that factor into what you charge.

Related read: How to get paid to speak at drone conferences

I can be flexible at times but it’s a rare exception. A renowned publication recently reached out and asked me to contribute. However, the price they were willing to pay for a major article was way under market rate. I politely turned it down. I think it’s important to know your worth even though there are other people that might jump at underpaid gigs for the exposure.

DG: You say people should diversify income streams, but at what point do people run the risk of becoming the jack-of-all-trades, queen of none?

KM: Don’t try to do it all. I’ve seen several drone services businesses run by one or two individuals attempt to offer everything possible – photography, videography, inspection, mapping, search and rescue, so on and so forth.

The downside is that at least one of these areas suffers since no one can possibly master every discipline. If you have a larger team, where every individual is an expert in one or two areas, great. Otherwise leave it alone.

Even though I’m familiar with all the major sectors of the drone industry, and write about them, I stick to offering two services I’m best at and truly enjoy – photography and videography.

Writing is something I’ve done for ages on a variety of subjects, what I’m referring to is remote pilot work.

I occasionally get people reaching out to inquire if I’m available for an inspection project, for example, and that they’re looking for a woman in particular. In that instance, I’ll refer them to someone I know and trust. I’m not going to take something on unless I know I can do a stellar job. Your reputation is all you have and you don’t want to underdeliver or misrepresent yourself. 

Drone Girl: Absolutely! And reputation is key, especially in a tight-knit industry like drones.

KM: Speaking on reputation, I’ve heard several horror stories from some of my peers about certain business owners attempting to steal away projects. Said person hires someone as a Visual Observer (VO), for example, and then discovers that the would-be VO went to the client, behind their back, and claimed they could do a better job for less money.

Don’t ever do this, even if you’re in dire need of more work. The industry is small and people talk. There are now certain individuals I would never consider working with or hiring.

DG: Totally. This industry is so small. On that note, let’s talk about the tight-knit community of dronies!

KM: I’m most energized by connecting people, especially when it’s beneficial for everyone involved.

I can’t remember who said it, now, but 90% of successful networking boils down to being of service to others – not only contacting people when a favor is needed or befriending them merely for your own benefit.

I’m on the jury for this year’s Boston Drone Film Festival and they recently reached out asking if I knew some women who would be a fit for a few more panels they’re hosting in March. Instead of nominating myself to discuss topics I have superficial knowledge of, at best, I connected them with known experts that will offer value. 

DG: That’s great. Plus, someone else could totally benefit even more and build up their own brand/business — and then down the road they’ll return the favor.

KM: I’ve always worked on the belief system that there’s plenty of work to go around and at times, people I helped in the past often think of me for opportunities when it’s appropriate – it all comes around but that’s not what should not be a motivating factor when it comes to helping others either.

I am also genuinely happy when a friend in the industry gets an award, nomination, or some other form of well-deserved recognition. Ultimately, in life and work, the only person I compete with is myself. I’m always looking to improve my skillset and I operate on the fact that there are plenty of people with more talent that I learn from day in and out.

DG: Totally, especially among the few women in the drone industry, it’s so nice to see how people want to support each other. Moving on though, how do you handle negativity in the industry?

KM: I try to answer as many questions as possible but I don’t take well to anything that is ignorant, condescending, or comes off as accusatory from someone who clearly didn’t do their homework. The media has unfortunately perpetuated some bad stereotypes about drones. Despite that, and some of the inevitable misunderstandings that come with a burgeoning industry, I feel like communication with others needs to be respectful at all times. It’s important to develop a polite tone, especially with your first online encounter with a complete stranger.

That’s one final piece of advice – if you’re reaching out to a person you admire or found online, who you hope to learn from or connect with on a deeper level, make sure you’ve researched your question(s) as much as possible. We all started somewhere but you really need to put forth a concerted effort to learn the fundamentals and stay on top of ever-changing developments. Those with expertise will respect you more and give you the advice you need if you approach them with a genuine sense of curiosity coupled with a sense of self-awareness.

You do everything that has to do with drones: flying, photography, writing about them for news outlets, and working for drone brands writing their copy. Which component is your favorite?

I would say that first and foremost, my favorite thing to do, in general, is capture drone imagery. It’s nice to get hired for a shoot and break away from the computer for a bit.

However, what helps me improve any aspect of my work is writing about it. The fact that I get paid to do so is an added bonus. I find that writing is such an important skill – it helps you connect the dots and gives a new sense of clarity when approaching any challenge.

If you want to find more about Kara Murphy, check out her relaunched personal site, Aerial Print Shop. Now through the end of the year, all Drone Girl readers can receive 25% off any print with the code “dronegirl”.

Additionally, check out Aerial Photography Network, a community of aerial photographers created in part by Murphy. Eventually, the goal is that Aerial Print Shop will sell prints from members.

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