The best way to propel your career (and income) forward is to learn a high income skill and find employers/clients to pay you for it.
You can even pivot this into launching a business in the future.
It all starts with choosing the right skill, though. So in this article, we’ll cover:
Let’s get started…
Some employers require a 4-year degree to work as a software engineer (usually a degree in computer science or math). However, many don’t – and even top employers like Google and Apple have done away with the requirement for a degree.
So it’s possible to learn this skill without a formal university degree… usually through online or in-person “coding bootcamps” which typically take around 12 weeks to complete.
Overall, software development is one of the best high income skills to learn because of the high demand for this type of work. More of the world’s businesses and systems are being run on software. More transactions/purchases are happening online each year. And more people are using apps, online tools, and electronic devices in virtually every aspect of their lives.
(They even make doorbells now with integrated cameras that send video to your smartphone when someone’s at your door. This requires software engineers to build!)
And it’s not uncommon for software engineers with a few years of experience to earn $100,000+, and the very best engineers in top companies can earn $200,000 or more.
If you decide to go the freelance software development route, you could charge upwards of $100-150 per hour with certain programming languages and skill sets (some pay more than others).
To get started, here are 18 coding schools and bootcamps where you can learn software development online.
If you don’t want to learn to write code, no problem.
Sales is another one of the highest-income jobs in the world and doesn’t require any type of technical background or specific degree.
In one of my first office jobs, I was doing customer support, but I happened to sit very near the sales team. The top salespeople were earning $500,000 or more per year. One guy made $2 million in the first year I was there…
…With a Bachelor’s degree in English.
So while many companies will want a four-year degree of some type, you don’t need any specific educational background to get into sales. Some companies may not even require a degree at all.
Also, there are different types of roles within sales. There are people who close deals (known as “closers”) but there are also people who reach out to potential customers initially and try to set up that appointment with the closer. These are often called “appointment setters”).
I know the term “appointment setter” doesn’t sound too glamorous, but in my story above, the people earning $500K+ were doing just that!
Our CEO was a salesman himself, and he closed most of the big deals personally (on the phone or in person). So the sales team members earning the big commissions were just setting up appointments for the CEO to close these clients.
If you’re wondering why salespeople can earn so much, it’s simple: Their skill has a direct impact on the company’s earnings. In this company, we were selling an expensive subscription service to other businesses.
And if a sales associate closed deals that would be worth $10 million per year, why wouldn’t the company be willing to pay them $1 million? That’s how commission works. It’s performance-based pay.
If you decide to try to find a job in sales, I recommend looking for B2B Sales (business to business) so that the commissions are higher. The best employers also pay a base salary in this space, so don’t feel pressure to take a commission-only job. You can expect a base salary of around $50,000-$65,000 for high quality B2B sales positions.
And if you’re interested in entrepreneurship in the longer term, sales is one of the best skills you can build for yourself, too!
Digital marketing is a field I taught myself and used to earn a freelance income for one year while traveling and growing this blog, Career Sidekick on the side.
Marketing is a great high-income skill with many sub-areas that you can specialize in to earn even more.
(They say “niches make riches,” and it’s true. Companies want to hire a specialist, at least when it comes to freelancers/consultants. If they need help with email marketing, they want an email marketing pro, not a marketing generalist. So over time, it’s best to specialize. Don’t worry at the start though – learn everything you can and decide later).
Some specific areas within digital marketing include:
Further reading: 8 websites to learn digital marketing online.
Copywriting isn’t a well-known type of work outside of the marketing/advertising world, but within the industry, everyone knows how vital this skill is. (And the best copywriters can make millions – usually through a commission or percentage of sales, which is agreed to upfront).
What do copywriters actually do, though? The highest-paid copywriters, known as “direct response copywriters” write words designed to get the reader to take a specific action.
What type of action? It varies… Buy a product. Click a link in an email. Click on an advertisement. Sign up for a webinar.
Those are all examples of actions many online businesses might want you to take, and so they pay a copywriter to write the words that will persuade more people to take that action.
Note: Some copywriters also specialize in video scripts for companies that use video to sell. These are carefully written and take days/weeks to construct. Each word and line is carefully chosen, at least at the highest level of this skill.
That’s why copywriters are paid so well. The best freelance copywriters will typically earn a flat rate, but also a percentage of sales generated by their work.
For example, if a large online business hired a copywriter to put together the sales page for their new product, they might agree to pay the copywriter $10,000, plus 2% of net sales. That 2% might not sound like a lot, but if the company sells $5,000,000 worth of product, that’s $100,000 in commission for that one project!
Any online business needs designers to decide how their web pages should look. So if you’re interested in technology/web business, but don’t want to learn to write code, you could consider learning web design instead.
It’s not quite as lucrative as software engineering on average, but the best web designers still earn $100,000+, so I consider it a good high-paying skill if working in tech seems interesting to you.
And it provides a great alternative for people who have a background in some type of art or visual design and want to earn a lot with that skill.
Businesses can make a lot of money by appearing high in online search results, so they’re willing to pay big money for help with this.
(Example: If an online store is selling natural fitness supplements, they’ll earn a lot of money if they can get their website to appear first when someone searches for, “Buy natural supplements.”)
This is where SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization, comes into play.
SEO professionals study the best practices for helping a company’s website appear higher up for online search terms (typically in Google).
SEO is one of the highest income skills on the market, and lends itself particularly well to freelancing or starting your own business.
Many SEO freelancers have multiple clients on a monthly retainer and they’re paid a flat monthly rate (often $1-2K or more per client per month), to manage a company’s search appearance.
There are sub-areas within the field of SEO, too.
For example, some professionals specialize in local SEO, where they help small businesses appear high up for searches like, “Locksmiths in Boston,” or “Plumber in San Diego,” or “Best orthodontist in LA.”
If you’re wondering whether learning a trade can be a high income skill, the answer is yes! You can potentially earn six figures working in the trades. Here are some examples of high-paying trade skills/jobs:
Not everyone in the trades will earn six figures. Most of the jobs listed above have a median salary of $45,000-60,000, but on the top end, there are certainly people earning six figures in these fields.
The top mechanics make six figures. The top electricians do, too. So it’s very possible with the right choices.
If you’re interested in trade skills and blue-collar jobs, read our list of the top 10 blue collar jobs here.
Project managers use communication skills and organizational skills rather than technical skills to earn a high income.
They’re highly paid because they manage the multiple aspects of a company’s process of creating products and services, and often oversee multiple teams.
For example, if a company is creating a new software product, a project manager may oversee software developers, graphic designers, and more.
Some employers will want you to have a bachelor’s degree for this job, unlike many other options on our list of high income skills.
Yet some employers won’t.
You can look into project management certifications to get started, or work your way up within a company, by starting as an individual contributor and learning one aspect of their operations before taking on more.
One good way to research how people got into a career is to look for a certain job title (like “Project Manager”) on LinkedIn and then look back at previous jobs they’ve held, their educational background, certifications, and more.
You can even see which soft skills they list in their “skills” section.
So this is a great way to reverse-engineer a career and see what steps are needed to break into it.
More and more brands/companies are using video content in their social media, advertising, and more. More brands are starting and growing YouTube channels, too.
So there’s a high demand for skilled video editors, and these positions may not even require a college degree.
You can perform this skill as a freelancer or find a full-time video editing role for a single company, both of which can earn you a high income and get you to a six-figure salary over time.
So if you have any type of background or interest in video editing, graphic design, or related fields, then this is a good, high-demand skill to look into learning or further developing, and since it’s a relatively new field where the demand has risen so quickly, you’re unlikely to limited by lack of a bachelor’s degree if you don’t have one.
The average salary for a video editor varies widely depending on the industry, but if you specialize in a certain niche and become excellent at the job, you can earn a great income.
If you’re more interested in audio than video and/or have specialized skills in that area already, you can also look into working in audio production.
As podcasts and other forms of audio content become more popular, companies will need more help in this area.
These are both high income skills that can earn you great pay without a degree. Most employers, whether you’re doing this as a side-hustle or full-time, will simply want to know you have the skills and background to help their business, rather than looking for a degree.
Now that you’ve seen some examples of high income skills above, you may be wondering: How do you develop these high income skills?
There are a couple of ways you can learn and develop a high income skill like those mentioned above. Here are some of the best ways to start learning:
There are YouTube channels/videos dedicated to everything from software engineering to carpentry to sales skills. While not everyone sharing information on the platform is an expert worth trusting, many are! You can find great content on YouTube that’s 100% free if you spend enough time looking.
Just do your research and find 2-3 great people to follow. You don’t need more than that.
After consuming a lot of free content, you may decide to invest in one of these content creators’ paid courses (if they offer one). We’ll talk about that next…
There’s a lot of free information on the web, and some of it is quite good. But at a certain point, you may feel that you need to invest in a paid course in order to take your skills to the next level.
I recommend getting familiar with the free content of a few experts in your field, and investing in a paid course only after you’ve found someone whose teaching style you like!
But if you do enjoy someone’s free content and they have a paid course that looks like it teaches what you’re trying to learn, this can be a great investment and can help you build your high-income skill much faster.
Time is money – so if you spend $400 on a course, but it gets you to the point where you can make money with your skills faster, then it may be worth it.
If you want to learn a trade, it’s probably worth enrolling in a trade school. If you want to learn software engineering and have no background in Computer Science, the fastest route is to join a coding “bootcamp” where you’ll rush through a ton of information and knowledge in approximately 12 weeks… usually getting you proficient in a particular programming language like Ruby.
So for some of the skills mentioned above, taking a formal class at a school that specializes in teaching that field is a good option.
Another thing that you can do to accelerate your learning and greatly boost your chances of success: Find a mentor.
Starting out on your own is tough, in any field. Having someone to give you a blueprint to follow, warn you about common mistakes, and offer encouragement will make a huge difference in your success.
In fact, just being in touch with someone who you KNOW succeeded in your field is encouraging, and forces you to avoid excuses like, “Maybe this just isn’t a legitimate way to make money.”
So always look to find a mentor!
Your long-term dream may be entrepreneurship, freelancing, consulting, or building an agency. But in the short term- one of the best ways to continue building your high income skill (after the steps above) is to take a job in the field or go find an internship.
Sure, getting a job for 1-2 years might not be your dream if you want to be self-employed eventually, but you’ll be getting paid to learn!
I did this myself… accidentally. I worked as a recruiter and learned a lot about how companies hire, what to include on a resume to get more interviews, etc.
Then, I took that knowledge and founded this website – CareerSidekick.com – and turned it into a full-time business gradually.
The bottom line is: While working in an office for someone else wasn’t my dream, I got paid very well and learned a valuable skill at the same time.
I also benefited from the one year I spent freelancing as a copywriter/marketer. So it all came together in the end. Stacking multiple skills is one of the most powerful things you can do to boost your career!
The best high income skills to learn include software engineering, sales, digital marketing, copywriting, web design, SEO, and trade skills. You can develop these skills through formal training programs, online courses, or free content from websites like YouTube.
To take your learning further, find a great mentor or coach who can help you develop your skills faster based on their own experiences and successes.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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