What is a high-income skill? What are some examples of high-income skills?

I’ve heard those questions asked more and more from people looking to switch careers or start earning side income in a high-paying field.

When I say high-income skills, I mean skills that do not require a four-year college degree but still pay extremely well. I’m talking about six-figure salaries in some cases.

Okay, let’s get to what you came for! I’m going to tell you about the most in-demand high-income skills right now, how to learn them, and more.

What Are the Best High-Income Skills You Can Learn Without A College Degree?

1. Digital Marketing

As more and more people are living and working in the online world, digital advertising has become increasingly important for businesses. Traditional forms of marketing – like billboards and print ads – just aren’t as relevant, and lots of business owners, especially small business owners, are struggling to keep up. That’s why digital marketing is one of the most profitable skills to learn in 2024. 

The basic goal of digital marketing is to generate leads and build brand awareness, so you can take this skill in a lot of different directions, like:

  • Email marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Lead generation
  • Link building
  • White label services
  • Pay-per-click management
  • Paid search (Google, Yahoo, and Bing)

Most digital marketers niche-down eventually, another reason this is one of the best high-income skills — you can fairly quickly turn into an expert on how your skills fit specific business owners.

Take my buddy Mike Yanda. He’s a lawyer turned digital marketer who started running Facebook ads for fitness pros and gyms while he was still in law school. It started as a way to start paying down his school debt, but he eventually turned his side hustle into a full-time marketing job and eventually quit practicing law. His Facebook marketing firm brings in $30,000+ a month!

I ran Facebook ads to supplement my income after leaving my teaching job to run this site full-time. I was making $1,000-$1,500/month per client and eventually began out earning what I made as a teacher.

Because of our experience running Facebook ads, Mike and I teamed up to create the Facebook Side Hustle Course. It teaches you everything you need to know to start your own digital marketing agency, and we’ve had a number of students build their business to reach the $5,000 and even $10,000/month mark.

How to learn this skill:

If you’re not interested in learning how to run Facebook ads, there are lots of other great resources online. YouTube is a massive resource for digital marketing, and it’s free. You can also check out courses on Skillshare or Udemy.

Income potential:

Average base salary for digital marketers is around $52,000, but you can find digital marketing jobs that pay $100,000-$150,000 per year.

2. Software Engineering

Software engineering is one of the best high income skills to learn right now because there is such a demand for it. Heck, we all just spent 2020 relying on software more than ever. It’s how we worked, how kids went to school, how we ordered our toilet paper, etc.

Nearly every aspect of our daily lives is impacted by a software engineer.

What’s interesting about this career is that many of the top-paying software engineering jobs required a four-year degree until fairly recently. Google even has it posted on their website that a computer science degree isn’t necessary.

Computer science degree not necessary for Google

Software engineers need experience in coding and different programming languages like Ruby on Rails, Java, JavaScript, Python, and so on. 

There are several other tech-specific jobs that relate to software engineering and technology:

  • App developer: Create, test, and program non-web-based software, like apps for smartphones and computers
  • Web developer: Design software that runs in a browser
  • Systems developer: Design and code the background processing systems
How to learn this skill:

One of the most popular and quickest ways to learn high income skills like software engineering, app development, web development, or systems development is to enroll in a multi-week bootcamp. Bootcamps teach real-world, practical skills to help you land your first job.

Income potential:

Software engineers with less than a year of experience can start out making approximately $100,000/year. Some companies also offer sign-on bonuses to attract highly-qualified candidates. Growing your skills and moving up in a company can increase your income closer to $130,000- $170,000/year.

3. Online Course Creation

Online courses make learning affordable and accessible, and if you have a marketable skill– more on what this can be in just a second– creating a course can be a very lucrative option.

Skills that can help people make more money, for example teaching them a side hustle like proofreading or bookkeeping, do really well in online courses. But there are successful online course creators teaching things like watercolor painting and sourdough bread baking.  

The goal is to pick a topic you know well and that’s going to bring value to someone’s life.

Successful course creators do more than just teach skills. They help their students apply them outside of the educational setting, so the best courses include a practical hands-on component.

There are lots of different online course platforms you can use to create and market your course. I’ve used Teachable for my courses and my students and I have all been really happy with the tools and help it offers. 

One of my readers uses Skillshare and Udemy for her courses, and she’s cleared $1.4 million in profit in the four years since launching her first course. Here’s one of her recent payouts:

Online Course Creation income
How to learn this skill:

Start by thinking about what you would teach in an online course. Is there a job-specific skill you have, a hobby you’re known for, etc.? Think about a specific aspect or project related to that skill that you could teach. Then, check out the different online course platforms to get an idea of how you can structure and launch your course.

Income potential:

It varies wildly, but $1,000-$5,000/month is not uncommon in the beginning. As you grow your course list and audience it’s possible to earn $10,000-$50,000/month.

4. Graphic Design

Graphic designers create logos, banners, book covers, advertisements, brochures, and more. This is a high income skill that requires serious creativity because your job is to inspire and inform. 

Graphic design is a skill you can learn in college, but because this skill takes natural artistic talent, it’s something you can develop on your own. 

Many new graphic designers start out as freelancers who list their services on Fiverr and Upwork. These platforms let you describe how you can help potential clients, and then you can use that work to grow your portfolio and go after higher paying gigs.

How to learn this skill:

Graphic designers rely on software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. You can download those and start playing around so you can get comfortable with the software. You may want to take some online graphic design courses to learn the principles, and there are also free tutorials online.

Income potential:

New freelance graphic designers can realistically charge around $25/hour, and you can gradually bump your pay up as you gain more experience. The top earners charge around $40/hour.

5. SEO Specialist

A good SEO (search engine optimization) practice can help a business rank high in online search results. That means more traffic to your site and potentially more sales, which is why it’s one of the best high income skills to learn right now. 

You’ve seen the work of SEO experts any time you search for something online. Take a search query like “best swaddling blankets.” I’m a new dad, so this is the kind of stuff I search for these days.

I’m more likely to click on one of the articles on the first page of results, and more likely to buy from one of those sites too. 

There are different kinds of SEO practices – on-page, off-page, and technical SEO. You can become a specialist in any one of those areas, but some of the highest pay SEO experts help businesses build a comprehensive SEO strategy using all of those.

I actually have a stellar SEO expert consulting for me. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever worked with and worth his weight in gold.

How to learn this skill:

There are some great SEO courses online that are worth checking out. My SEO expert teaches one that’s specific to bloggers if that’s the kind of client you’re interested in working with. It’s called SEO for Writers and I highly recommend it.

But there are free resources too, like YouTube videos, online articles, and even some free courses.

Income potential:

Freelance SEO specialists bill their clients an average of $100/hour.

6. Copywriting

Copywriting technically falls under the realm of marketing, but it’s such an in-demand high income skill that it deserves a separate mention.

Copywriters write words that sell, educate, and engage customers. And some of the highest-paid copywriters are direct response copywriters — they write words that convince people to take a specific action. 

This skill requires more than just being a good writer. You need to know who your client is, learn (and sometimes create) their brand voice, and understand what they have to offer their audience. You also need to understand their target clientele or customer, identify their pain points, and then write copy that explains how your client’s products or services will ease their troubles. 

A good copywriter gets people to click buttons, sign up for email lists, purchase products, register for webinars, etc. A really good copywriter can sell millions of dollars worth of products or services in a few emails. You can see why this is such a valuable skill. 

Copywriters usually charge their clients a flat fee for the writing work, but they may also earn a percentage of any sales generated by their work.

How to learn this skill:

There are online courses, articles, and ebooks that teach copywriting. Some copywriters are able to take on apprenticeships with an advertising agency and learn on the job. If you already have a college degree in English, journalism, communications, advertising, marketing, or public relations, you can leverage that experience to get started. It also primes you for starting out at a higher pay rate.

Income potential:

A new copywriter can make around $25-$35/hour as a freelancer. Top earning copywriters clear over $100,000 annually.

7. Sales

Selling is one of the oldest high paying skills, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue well into the future. I mean, if your a business owner and you want someone to buy something, then you need a good sales person.

The best salespeople understand how to get inside their customers’ minds. They can figure out what it will take to sell them that new home security system or exactly what it will take to close a real estate deal.

Sales is broader than you might think, and it can include skills like lead generation, raising capital, and creating partnerships. It’s also a skill necessary to virtually every industry: media, real estate, healthcare, insurance, media, politics, and much more.

How to learn this skill:

Some entry level sales jobs don’t require previous experience and offer on the job training, but sales jobs in real estate or insurance require training, exams, and licensing.

Income potential:

Income varies widely based on the field. For example, medical device sales representatives earn a median income of approximately $150,000 a year.  Insurance sales agents have a median salary of $51,000 annually.

8. UI/UX Design

Because we’re increasingly reliant on technology, a number of high income skills are related to it, and UI/UX design is another. If you’re unfamiliar with UI/UX design, here’s what they are:

  • UI (user interface) designers focus on the way a product is laid out. They design each screen or page that a user interacts with.
  • UX (user experience) designers are concerned with how the product feels. They ensure a logical and intuitive flow from one step to the next.

These designers are responsible for creating a positive user experience, and anytime you open an app and move around in it, you’ve experienced their work. For example, a personal finance app that can logically connect the different facets of your financial life – like your net worth, account balances, debt, etc. – from screen to screen. That’s what UI/UX designers do.

How to learn this skill:

Like software engineering, you can attend boot camps or certification courses to educate yourself. Some of these courses and boot camps help you build a portfolio that you can show to potential employers. 

Income potential:

The national average salary for UI/UX designers is $78,000, and mid-level designers average closer to $100,000 annually.

9. Professional Flipper

Flippers are people who find things for free or cheap and then turn around and sell them for a profit. The skill required for flipping is that you need to have a good eye. Not everything you find will have a high resale value, but if you know what you’re looking for and where to sell it you can make some serious cash.

What you might like about this skill is that it’s something you can easily develop as a side hustle. You can spend weekends at yard sales and flea markets, and then evenings checking out online swap groups.

There are some flippers who specialize in flipping cars, mopeds, furniture, clothes, or other specific items. Focusing on what you know is huge benefit because you’ll likely know where to market your flips and what to look for.

How to learn this skill:

While this is definitely a skill you can learn on your own, my friends at Flea Market Flipper have a webinar that teaches you what to look for and how to start a flipping business. Learn more at the Flipper University.

Income potential:

Rob and Melissa at Flea Market Flipper made $79,000 last year working just 10-15 hours a week. They are clearly experts, but new flippers can realistically make in the $1,000-$5,000/month range.

10. Trade Skills

All of the jobs I’ve mentioned mean sitting in front of your computer for most of the day. But I know not everyone wants that kind of job. 

If you want hands-on work, there are several high-income trade skills you might be interested in. Here’s a list of the best trade skills to learn and how much they pay:

  • Concrete mason $47,710
  • Electrician $56,900
  • HVAC technician $50,590
  • Plumber $56,330
  • Home inspector $62,860
  • Dental hygienist $77,090
  • Welder $44,190
  • Sonographer $70,380
  • Radiological and MRI tech $63,710
How to learn these skills:

All of these high income skills require training, but none of them require a 4-year degree. Training may be through a technical college, trade school, or 2-year associate’s degree program. Electricians and plumbers also require apprenticeships, but your schooling often counts towards it.

Income potential:

Anywhere from $40,000-$80,000 depending on the trade skill. Jobs like dental hygienist, sonographer, and radiological technicians have the highest pay and best job outlook according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Are the Most Profitable Skills to Learn? The Final Word

Some of the best high paying skills are in the tech industry for pretty obvious reasons — we are so much more reliant on the internet, computers, apps, etc. It’s how we work, learn, entertain ourselves, and communicate with people.

But if a job sitting at a computer isn’t it for you, there are more hands-on options that have future growth potential.

It takes time to learn any of these skills, but if you’re looking to switch to a higher-paying career, it’s worth the hustle.