Image: Drone Photo taken by Seth Conlin of InFlightRobotics.com
The pivoting experience has been interesting. I went from a busy, successful and in demand lighting crew chief, to, like most people, unemployed and wondering what to do next with my identity gone and no jobs available. A drone services company was a great natural choice for me. I had been working on learning the ins and outs of drones for several years, using it as a side gig and possible future career, while I was still on the road. So, when the pandemic hit, and the entertainment industry, along with my job went out the window, it was time to take the plunge and dive in. Besides, what else was I going to do?
Image: Seth Conlin
In terms of the actual drone operations and the type of services we provide, it’s actually a pretty easy transition. In the lighting industry, as a freelance technician, I am a service provider. At the end of the day, my responsibility is to my primary customer, and the relationships I build with those customers. Drone services is exactly the same, provide a service, foster relationships with the customer, and provide the best service possible.
For the equipment side, drones are also similar to moving lights. The electronics are not terribly different, and the challenges are the same. Moving parts wear out and need to be inspected frequently, our wireless control links and the theory behind them are the same as our networks, having expensive equipment in the air with the propensity for danger, same as what we do. The processes are the same, do the same thing every time, in the same order, and follow a set of standard operating procedures, easy.
Image: In Flight Robotics getting ready for a drone flight!
The challenges however are many. For most of us freelancers, we need to sell ourselves once to a reputable production company, and then our work speaks for ourselves. In my pivot, my biggest struggle has been sales. I live in a small town, and being away for most of the time I have lived here, I have not built the connections in town yet. In small towns, the best way to make these networks and sell your product is to walk into an office and meet people. Unfortunately, in the context of a global pandemic, this is not possible. So that means cold calls, cold call emails, lots of misunderstanding, and lots and lots of rejection. As a one mand band currently as well, it means that the learning of the business, technologies, and the actual running of the business falls on me.
It has definitely been overwhelming at times, but when you get those few contacts built up and you start the ball rolling, pretty soon it starts building. Another one of the main challenges for me is patience. My plan was to start the business for real after a couple more really busy years of touring. Put some money in the bank, have a good savings account to cushion the transition, and get started. Of course, none of us could have predicted the pandemic, so in order to survive, it means I need to pull jobs in. This has been a constant source of frustration, as I want everything to happen right now! And things take time, especially in a service based industry that is cutting edge and people aren’t overly sure about it.
Image: An In Flight Robotics' Drone
If I had any advice for somebody considering a pivot, it’s this.
- Find allies that can offer you sound advice. Optimistic people are good for this, however, I recommend somebody that has a great grasp of reality. You need somebody that can tell you that your idea might not be the greatest, or can give you a different perspective. My dad has been an amazing advisor in this regard.
- Seek out an advisor, preferably free through an incubator program specific to your pivot. I was able to enter an 8 week program with a technology incubator to get 8 hours of free advice from an advisor that is familiar with my business. We worked together on my weaknesses, coming up with financial forecasts, a business plan, and marketing strategies and sales techniques. This has been absolutely the best thing for my business.
- Know your business. Do your research, explore all the options and strive to be the best. But also, realize that you need to walk before you run. There will be setbacks, frustrations, bad jobs, etc. Learn from them, know your value, and become better.
- Do something that fills your tank. It’s really easy when starting a business to get stuck in this cycle of constantly working, in the desperation to get some business going. You need to stop on occasion and do something for yourself. For me, I’ve stopped working on weekends as much as possible, I go out on my mountain bike, or chainsaw next year’s firewood, or garden. It gives me time to reflect, step back and see the bigger picture. And heh, while we have the chance, why not?
Only time will tell if my business will be successful, and if it will become my main business. My transferable skills have aided me immensely, and the learning curve is steep. But I am optimistic for the future, and it could be that when I have the opportunity to go back on the road, I am too busy to say yes.
Head to Seth's website now to see stunning drone videos and photos: https://www.inflightrobotics.com/
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