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7 Most Lucrative Skills You Can Learn for Free

7 Most Lucrative Skills You Can Learn for Free
Annette Miller May 27, 2018
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?

This article has something for everyone. It includes skills you can learn for free; in some cases, for a fee, these courses also offer a certificate of completion. Soft skills and technical skills alike are included.

Jobs in high demand are discussed and largely informed which skills made the list of the endless possibilities of lucrative skills.

The list covers resources for learning new languages, improving communication skills, learning to code, understanding statistics, search engine optimization, digital marketing, and how to repair broken violins.

Whether you are looking for a career breakthrough, side hustle ideas, preparing to launch a business, or change careers from one industry to another, let’s get started!

1. Becoming Bilingual    

Fluency in a second language is a hot skill to have on your resume in the global information economy. Healthcare, insurance, engineering, and financial services are the industries with accelerated need for bilingual workforces.

Dual language fluency is also badly needed in many domestic service positions. The majority of these positions employ individuals with less than a bachelor’s degree. In fact, as of 2015 about three in five jobs requiring a second language fell into this category.   

You may be thinking, “Learning a new language requires an ongoing time commitment.”  That is true.

Enter Apple’s iPhone app of the year and a Google Play store Editor’s Choice, Duolingo. Installed over 200 million times, Duolingo boasts 30 languages on their platform as of this writing. With that many choices, a useful language may be in the cards for you in your free time.  

To your potential concern about time commitment, Duolingo has a loyal community of users who specifically adore the app because of how easy and manageable it makes learning. The app store’s official description says “It’s free, fun and effective. The secret? Duolingo feels like a game and makes sure you stay motivated.”

→ Pro Tip:  If you’re an intermediate in a language but working toward mastery, absolutely add “conversational __________” to your LinkedIN and resume.  

If you aren’t sure how the sheer time investment stacks up against potential payoff, a few factors may influence what conclusion you arrive at. These include:

  • state you live in (read:  California)
  • type of career you’re in or want to switch to
  • which languages you’re learning  (Spanish, Arabic, Chinese are most in-demand)

2. Expertly Communicating & Presenting  

Speaking of communication skills, don’t overlook English as a hidden opportunity.

How you communicate in writing and in person can convince your corporate overlord boss you deserve a 15% bigger salary when you ask for it. It can help you develop relationships with your coworkers (whatever you do, don’t vocab-drop big words thinking you’ll sound smart and impress people).

Our communication patterns are the most nuanced of any creatures on earth. Subtle differences in combinations of vocabulary, grammar, writing structure, visuals (including gesticulating, posture, eye contact), punctuation, and intonation all add up a bit differently.

Communication is never as simple as just words and content. Those differences in delivery matter.  

In Your Day Job

This free course on Udemy teaches you to be a more effective presenter.  Salespeople and executives need to be share information effectively, yes, obviously. But if you’re still thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me!” just be honest with yourself for a moment. Besides, at just two hours long, this is the shortest tutorial on the list.

In your career, communication is a critical soft skill which influences your earning potential directly and indirectly through:

  • Your reputation and perceived career potential by superiors
  • Productivity, especially if you bill clients by the hour  
  • Unnecessary meetings clogging up your calendar

→ Pro Tip: You need this course if you have lots of presentation content but struggle determining what to include versus cut; or, if you need help creating a boilerplate presentation to use repeatedly.

Being a clear and persuasive speaker is less about finesse and more about learning how to engage an audience in a way that’s relevant to them.

Being a stellar communicator means purposefulness in how you deliver a story* and clarity about why you are telling it to a certain audience. By extension, you increase the odds of evoking the reaction you want.

*A story might not be a literal story. It could be as simple ask, “Boss, I want to discuss a raise.”   

Communication in Side Hustles  

In addition to the impact this can have in a 9-to-5 setting, public speaking prowess can be lucrative in moonlighting.

→ Pro Tip:  Side hustling as a public speaking coach can fetch over $100-300 per hour.

Another side hustle which obviously requires strong communication is freelance writing or editing. Freelance writing rates typically start at $20-50 per article. If you have a disciplined writing schedule and clear point of view, you could make $500 per month, even as a new coming to the writing tribe.

Speaking skills might also help you land an adjunct teaching position or tutoring gig in a nearby college. High school kids prepare for their SATs every year, adults need help preparing for GREs, and there’s never a shortage of people who need help with essay editing online.

3. Programming & Developing Software  

I dare you to Google, “learn to code for free.” Okay, maybe don’t do that unless you want to be completely overwhelmed.

My point is there are tons of places to pick up programming and software development precisely because it is a lucrative skill, with computer programmers and software developers averaging salaries of $85,000 to $105,000 annually, respectively.  

Top Courses

Class Central has a listing of their Top 50 Classes of all time. Many classes listed on Class Central are setup for Course Auditing be default, with a certificate of completion available for purchase from most for $99.

Content originates from top universities like Harvard, the University of Virginia, MIT, Vanderbilt, University of Washington, and Princeton:

Alternative Learning Approach  

If learning to code has been on your aspirational to-do list for a long time, Codecademy may be the student-centric curriculum you’ve been waiting for.

They offer introductory courses focused on technical skill instruction via interactive online lessons. (Their company mission is anchored in transforming the educational experience.) They’re all about how they teach, not just what they’re teaching.   

Over 45 million students have used their platform to learn languages including HTML, Ruby, Python, JavaScript, Java, and SQL. They’re all free for your learning delight (and earning potential).

Certificates are available as part of their premium services such as their intensive programs, which run about $199. These are appropriate for intermediate students to amplify coding skills with rigorous curriculums and personalized support.

For example, they have a Data Scientist framework for learning SQL.  This type of applied learning is right up my alley and seems to be a scenario-based instruction style.


Kotlin is a popular programming language with rapid adoption in the last few years. This Kotlin Bootcamp for Programmers is taught by industry pros, but is geared toward intermediate developers.

(Check prerequisites listed on the site.) Udacity offers it for free, courtesy a partnership with Google. No certificates appear to be available.

What does Google have to do with this?  At the 2017 Google I/O conference, it was dramatically unveiled as an official platform development language for Android. It functions in parity with Java and C++ to support thousands of Android applications across the globe.

Google described Kotlin as “a brilliantly designed, mature language that we believe will make Android development faster.”

That type of endorsement is a big deal.

→ Pro Tip:  Any skill with such rapid marketplace adoption as Kotlin will be lucrative if hiring demand outpaces professionals adopting those skills.

Companies with Google platform products predictably shifted significant chunks of their codebase toward Kotlin following the animated announcement. Kotlin can be found under the hood of industry leaders in:

  • consumer banking apps
  • social media platforms
  • payment processing technologies
  • streaming services
  • ridesharing services
  • SaaS business solutions

4. Getting Statistics Savvy

“If you’ve ever skipped over the results section of a medical paper because terms like ‘confidence interval’ or ‘p-value’ go over your head, then you’re in the right place.”

That’s how this healthcare research statistics course via Coursera describes its curriculum. The full curriculum is available for free. If you’d like the certificate of completion, that’s available for $29. This fee is nominal compared to competing platforms, which often charge at least $99 for a certificate.

For Students  

This course is a great way to beef up your Career Vitae as an undergraduates applying to internships or part-time jobs in clinical settings but haven’t taken stats in your program yet.

Similarly, if you are applying for graduate Research Assistantships in the life science fields, this certification could add enough depth to your limited experience by demonstrating self-motivation and genuine interest.

Those RA positions come with a stipend (small salary), but the really lucrative part of it is probably in the associated tuition relief perks.

For Career Changers

In the last two decades, demand for healthcare jobs has grown exponentially. That boon isn’t over. In fact, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) added in 2016 that they expect demand for these jobs to grow another 16% between 2016 and 2026.

What’s that mean for you? 

This free course could be a step toward claiming part of the healthcare surge. It’s beginner-friendly level of intensity makes it a consummate tool for transitioning into a healthcare career where you might need (or just benefit) to read and understand basic research.

So, if you’ve been contemplating a major career change, are overdue to earn that degree you’ve been putting off for years, or always hearing how there’s a shortage of nurses, check out what the payoff might be to move into a clinical healthcare job.



BLS Growth Prediction**

Average Salary

Physician Assistant    Masters 37% $104,860
Physical Therapy Assistant Associates 34% $57,000
Nurse Practitioners +
Nurse Anesthetists +
Nurse Midwives
Masters 32% $110,930
Genetic Counselors Masters 31% $77,480
Dental Hygienist Associates 30% $74,000
Radiation Therapist Associates 25% $80,570
Respiratory Therapist Associates 23% $59,000
Registered Nurse Bachelor 22% $70,000
Nutritionists + Dietitians Bachelor 15% $59,410
Health Information Technicians Postsecondary Non-degree/Certificate 13% $39,180
Surgical Technician Postsecondary Non-degree/Certificate 12% $46,310

*Note the chart covers a range of education levels, so a 4-year degree is not necessarily required.

**For the full list of healthcare jobs with a bright outlook, check out the list on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site.

An example

I know a therapist who did this.   

At the time we met, this woman was my career coach. During a chat one afternoon, she shared her dream of retraining for a second career in psychotherapy, effectively as an alternative to traditional retirement.

A few years after the conversation, she did become earn her master’s and earned her stripes as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). She is living the dream in her encore career.

Most programs like the one she’d have completed require statistics, but she probably hadn’t taken a class in that since earning her undergraduate degree at the beginning of the career.  

As she prepared to pivot from a career in professional development coaching to couples counseling, she would have been an ideal candidate to take this course as a refresher.   

The Advanced Options

If you’re already comfortable with basic descriptive statistics (what you’d learn via the class above), consider this more advanced course on data analysis from MIT.

Reviews indicate it is rigorous and the course instructors encourage a baseline level of comfort with math, but students don’t need to be statistics experts to succeed.

A certificate of completion is available for $99. Any data analyst worth their salt must also know about data visualization; this curriculum via Alison (a LinkedIn company) will get you up to speed on those concepts. A certificate is available for an unspecified fee.

5. Optimizing Website Content (SEO)

Due to the popularity of WordPress, skills for powering the best-of-breed tools that function within its ecosystem are always needed. Additionally, search engine algorithms change constantly, which creates headaches for small business owners as they try to keep up.

Given SEO is a moving target, it makes sense that professionals with this expertise are compensated nicely for staying current on the ins and outs of it all. Depending on the nature of an SEO gig, you can expect to earn $30-175 per hour.

Tactical tasks bring in less than strategic auditing, which commands the highest rate.

For Beginners

A tutorial recently released is designed for newcomers to the universe of optimizing for search within WordPress. Yoast for Beginners is brought to you by the most popular plugin in the WordPress world.

It is beloved for its ease of use.This two-hour tutorial is meant to be a soup-to-nuts beginner’s guide. Yoast describes the course as a preparation for “everything you’ll ever do in SEO,” including technical and content SEO topics.

They provide handouts and cheat sheets for pinning up above your desk, quizzes to test understanding, and supplement info for the nerdy types who really want to go down the SEO rabbit hole.

What’s their course cover?  You’ll get explanations in lay terms for sub-topics like:

  • how search engine algorithms function
  • the ways these proprietary algorithms rank sites
  • how their plugin can make your life easier
  • how sites should be architected for best results
  • site indexes and ways to leverage rich results.
  • Google search behavior
  • Keywords
  • copywriting tips

→ Pro Tip:  Another key resource for SEO beginners are the Alison course on Google Analytics and accompanying Google Analytics Qualification Test course.

The Intermediate Option

I cannot recommend this free webinar recording from Hubspot on SEO architecture highly enough. While sitting through it live, I learned a great deal about the 2018 changes to Google’s algorithm.

More importantly, I learned what to do about it. In 45 minutes, I learned how (and scratched down ideas as we went along) to structure a site or blog pages around those changes.  

6. Developing Marketing Plans

A fundamental truth for businesses is that they will always need customers. That usually means they will need leads and a marketing plan.

Above, I touched on the SEO niche skill, but digital marketing also includes email marketing and automation, lifecycle management, analytics, social media, asset management, and more.

If you are familiar with all the pieces of this multi-channel digital marketing puzzle, you have an especially lucrative skill set on your hands.

On the other hand, if you’re altogether new to Digital Marketing, this course offers context to the ways marketing was historically approached as a backdrop to 2018 thought processes for reaching and engaging customers. A certificate is available for an unspecified fee.

Free Hubspot Certifications

Hubspot certifications are one of the most valuable free online learning meccas for digital marketing, full stop.

Anyone looking to expand the scope of their digital marketing skill set from SEO to strategy, development, and deployment of a marketing plan needs to join their mailing list and start reading their blog.  

It took me just a few hours to complete my first course with them, but I walked away with a free certification, handy reference sheets, and a back-of-the-napkin plan I developed along the way.

Between their webinars, downloadable content, email newsletters, and free CRM tool, there is something valuable for just about anyone whose career or side hustles touch the business development realm.

→ Pro Tip:  You can watch the certification videos at 100%+ speed to power through more content.

KissMetrics Deep-Dive Topics

Second only to my love for Hubspot, Kissmetrics is one of the places I’ve quickly fallen head over heels for in my quest to learn all things digital marketing. Like Hubspot, they have a marketing SaaS product, complete with analytics.

What they offer for free is a bit different for learning than Hubspot, though. Because the topics covered by Kissmetris are so specific, Hubspot is slightly better for those closer to the beginner end of the spectrum.

Bookmark this Kissmetrics library if that’s the stage you’re at, then come back to it when you’re ready to start optimizing. Already a digital marketer? This is a way to seriously level-up your game — and your hourly rate.

KissMetrics has webinar library covering a wealth of niche topics such as:

CoSchedule Resource Gold

Like the other digital marketing thought leaders, CoSchedule is seriously on top of it when it comes to giving away valuable content. Their Resource Hub has all manner of worksheets and handouts and guides to help you accelerate the journey from newbie to expert.

They have guides, podcasts, videos, product demos, tools, and (my personal favorite) a headline analyzer that will basically tell you, “Bless your heart, this title is awful; here’s why.

On their site, you can learn lucrative skills such as:

  • Best practices for managing an editorial marketing calendar
  • Must-know marketing trends to outpace the competition
  • How to run more effective meetings  
  • Ways to integrate storytelling and customer research  

Adspresso Demystifies Facebook Ads 

Adspresso is basically the authority on Facebook Ads. Like Google’s algorithm, Facebook’s underlying technology and business aims are moving earth under your feet, but their Academy is overflowing with helpful, beginner-friendly resources and only gets better by the day.

They’re an authority on the latest Facebook Ads features, how to maximize them, and focus on maximizing marketing budgets. They pride themselves on instructing people, whether they’re paying Adspresso customers or not.

The Advanced Jackpot Option

To make sense of marketing data and analytics, a basic understanding of how to measure marketing performance is essential. Truly, because there are so many avenues for learning digital marketing quickly, you could become a proficient marketing analyst in a matter of months.

In this course by Berkeley on edX,  market trends identification, metrics training, and forecasting are the key areas of instruction. The professor has experience in applied business settings; because of that, expect this course to be application-driven and practical.

Through this 4-week course, you can buy a certificate of completion for $99.  

As an alternative, this Coursera marketing analytics course is being offered by the University of Virginia via Coursera. The curriculum is similar to the first marketing analytics class.

The emphasis in this series is interpretation of data sets as a means to measure return on investment for the company’s marketing dollars.

It also covers customer profiling to understand preferences and buying behavior as they relate to making decisions about future marketing investments. A certificate of completion is $79 for this course.

7. Repairing Things

Are you the person your friends and family always turn to for fixing stuff? There’s money to be made in side hustles galore fixing broken things beyond your aunt Susan’s virus-ridden Android tablet.

Phones & Tablets

Speaking of broken tablets, if you’ve never had the pleasure of busting the screen on your prized widget, count your lucky stars.

In 2016, when I dropped mine on the weekend of my 30th birthday and had friends coming into town, I decided against my better judgement to take it in for an emergency screen swap. If I remember correctly, I spent over $100 to have it fixed (in addition to the cost of the part).  

I later found out there isn’t much of a secret to changing the part I needed replaced. In fact, a lot of people do this for friends, family, and coworkers. If you can learn from a stepwise written tutorial, these cover a range of broken electronics you might be asked to repair for a friend.


As a teenager, my dad taught me how to change my engine oil. (Point of pride, if I’m being honest.) But, although I know how to do it, it’s actually more cost-effective to have it done at a specialty shop.

That’s usually where the cost-benefit evaluation stops coming out in favor of a maintenance or mechanic being less expensive than doing something at home.

I am admittedly lucky and grateful to have a thoughtful and mechanically-inclined partner who could probably do routine maintenance with one hand tied behind his back. He routinely insists anyone can learn this stuff.  

YouTube can teach just about anything, right?  It turns out, there are plenty of tutorials on how to do basic vehicle repairs like changing a belt, putting a new car battery in, rotating tires, and swapping brake rotors. Because mechanics charge $70-120 per hour for most services, helping the occasional neighbor with such tasks could be lucrative.  

→ Pro Tip:  As an alternative to car repairs, offer to detail cars for your neighbors. Pros charge $50-150 for this, depending on vehicle size.

Musical Instruments

How lucrative is violin repair? Depending on your specific skill set (diagnostic skills, basic maintenance know-how versus advanced restoration skills), it would be fair to charge upwards of $50 per hour.

Another course on Udemy with great reviews teaches Violin repair. What can you expect to learn? What if you are absolutely clueless about violins?

The 4-hour tutorial description says you’ll learn the basics about care and maintenance, no prior knowledge of the instrument or how to play it necessary. Based on the course’s positive review score of 4.7 stars, that appears to be accurate.

→ Pro Tip:  Parents of kids beginning to learn should check this out, then offer word-of-mouth maintenance services via instructors and other parents.   

The course, curated by a certified professional instructor and active musician, is designed to guide beginners through learning how to best care for their instrument, adjust it for optimal learning, make minor repairs, and minimize expensive repairs in the future.

With a roster of over 600 students in his teaching portfolio, he probably knows a thing or two about the fundamentals.  A certificate of completion is available.

Final Thoughts

For career changers, my last pro tip is a scoop a resource.  O*Net Online can help you explore jobs with high hiring demand, search by skills and interests, and research salaries.

For the side hustler readers, skill boosters, and small business owners, I hope you gained a few morsels of knowledge to put to work about these lucrative skills and how you can incorporate them into your frugal lifestyle:

  • Learn a second language
  • Communicate purposefully  
  • Learn to code
  • Get familiar with statistics
  • Optimize WordPress websites  
  • Develop marketing plans
  • Repair things

Because this list is nowhere near exhaustive, check out other reputable sites with free courses:  Skillshare, Saylor, Lynda, and HighBrow.  

Annette Miller

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