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March 17, 2016

13 Valuable Skills You Can Teach Yourself for Free

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Ever wanted to become a master at Excel? Or learn how to negotiate effectively? What about coding, or becoming a better writer, or learning how to edit photos?

Thanks to the internet, where there's a will, there's a way. 

There's a whole lot you can teach yourself these days -- especially if you have access to an internet connection. You don't need to buy fancy equipment or sign up for expensive courses to learn skills that could be invaluable to your career and your personal life.

The key is finding the educational material that's high quality enough to be worth your time. Below, we've come up with a list of 13 skills you can teach yourself for free, along with resources to help you acquire those skills. Check 'em out.

13 Skills You Can Teach Yourself for Free

1) How to negotiate better.

Whether you're negotiating with your team to implement an idea or negotiating with your boss for a raise, negotiating skills will come in very, very handy. They'll help you become more confident, eliminate inequalities, gain a competitive advantage, and even preserve relationships by managing conflict more effectively.

There's a lot of reading material out there to help you become a better negotiator. If you're looking for a few quick reads, two helpful blog posts include "How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: 7 Tips for Having More Productive Discussions" and "The Introvert's Guide to Successful Negotiating."

If you're looking for a deeper dive, head over to the library and grab these two books: Ronald Shapiro's "Perfecting Your Pitch: How to Succeed in Business and in Life by Finding Words That Work," which explores the art of crafting a pitch and the importance of nuanced language, and William Ury's "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving," which serves as a guide to reaching mutually beneficial agreements in any conflict.

Want to take a class? There are a few free online negotiation courses you can choose from, too.

You can also practice negotiating for free by simply working on it in real life. Start by practicing being an active listener so that the person on the other side of the negotiation feels like you're not only hearing them, but also understanding them. Practice feeling out the other person's emotional state throughout the conversation and choosing your words, tone, and approach based on their emotions

2) How to use Microsoft Excel for more than just simple tables.

Most people have some experience with Excel, whether it's gathering ideas or making simple tables or equations. But if that's the limit of your Excel knowledge, you're missing out on a whole world of reporting automation that could save you hours upon hours of time.

Want to work more efficiently in Excel and avoid the tedium of updating your spreadsheets manually? There's a lot you can learn about Excel for free online. Actually, we've created a whole bunch of educational content about Excel here at HubSpot. Here are a few of the best ones:

3) How to invest your money.

Investing your money is intimidating for many reasons. First of all, the jargon is foreign. What are index funds? What's the difference between a 401(k) and a Roth IRA? If you aren't used to the vocabulary, it can seem pretty daunting. Secondly, the process seems super complicated and overwhelming -- not to mention, painfully boring.

At the same time, most of us know it's important to learn about savings and investment as early as possible, especially if you have a regular income.

There are a lot of helpful resources out there, but I've found Investopedia to be especially helpful. Those folks have a ton of free online resources, including this free stocks basics course. I've also found LearnVest's Knowledge Center to be particularly helpful. They have a ton of content about investing along with other personal finance topics like budgeting, saving, loans and mortgages, and so on.

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Image Credit: LearnVest's Knowledge Center

4) How to write better.

Everyone is a writer. This is especially true in our content-driven world, where we all partake in online communication of some sort on a regular basis -- from writing emails to authoring blog posts to banging out a few short tweets. Plus, it turns out that there are benefits to doing a bit of freewriting in the morning.

Do you want to cut down on spelling errors and grammatical mistakes? Find your writing voice? Author your first blog post? Get better at structuring your paragraphs? Name your writing goal, and there's probably a free resource for that.

If you're looking to improve your writing in a more general sense, start by watching this awesome, 18-minute talk my colleague Beth Dunn gave at INBOUND a few years ago on how to become a better writer. I have this video bookmarked when I need some inspiration.

Like Beth says in her talk, the best way to get better at writing is by practicing. Every day. You can certainly use good ol' pen and paper to practice, but there are also some great writing prompts apps that'll give you jumping-off points for a piece. While some of them cost a buck or two (like Prompts and Writing Challenge), there are some free ones out there. Grid Diary, for example, is good for folks who want to write something down in a diary-like format, asking questions like, "What did I do for my family today?" and "How can I make tomorrow better?" (For more tools, check out this list of 31 online tools for improving your writing.)

Looking for a deeper dive into improving your writing? Download our free ebook, "The Marketer's Pocket Guide to Writing Well," for free tips on how to become a better writer. You might also check out Macalester College's lecture series on writing well for full videos on topics like sentence structure, how to write intro paragraphs, how to engage readers, and so on.

Finally, if you're more interested in cutting back on spelling and grammatical errors, try out the free Hemingway web app. Once you've written something down, paste your text into this app and it'll assess how readable your writing is, as well as identify opportunities to make it simpler.

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Here are a couple more grammar- and spelling-related resources that might be helpful, too:

5) How to read faster.

Thanks (yet again) to our content-driven world, many of us find ourselves with a list of books we want to read, training we need to complete, and news we need to "stay on top of" every single day. For slow readers like myself, getting through all of this material -- and retaining the information from it -- can be a huge struggle. How on earth do I get better at skimming?

Turns out, reading faster often means changing the way you read. I, for example, have gotten into the habit of sounding out each word in my head. Without a concerted effort on my part, I'll never be able to get out of that habit.

Luckily, there are places online that'll teach you how to read faster and help you practice on a regular basis. Spreeder, for example, is a free online program that claims it can help people learn to to double, triple, or even quadruple the speed at which they read passages. Simply paste the text you want to read in the text box, choose your settings (like how fast words are flashed, and how many words are flashed at a given time), and press "play." From there, the app will flash one or more words on the screen at whatever pace you choose.

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Once you've gotten used to the app, you'll want to practice speed reading "in the wild," which you can also do for free using all the content that's out in the world already. (Remember, improving your reading speed will take time.) Start with easier reading material, like blog posts and short articles. If you're reading print, use your finger or a pen or index card to set the pace.

6) How to type faster.

If you don't know how to touch type (i.e. type without looking at the keys), then trust me: It's worth learning. Think about how much typing you do in a day, and then think about how much faster you'd get things done if you could speed that up. Overall, it's a skill that will make you much, much more productive.

I've spent far too much time playing online typing games and trying to beat my words-per-minute records. There are a lot of typing games out there, but Sense-Lang's Balloon Typing Game is one of the simplest. In the game, balloons with letters on them float down your screen, and your job is to burst them by hitting the right key before they reach the bottom. If you're looking for more of a challenge, check out their car racing game.

7) How to take beautiful photos.

You don't need to take an expensive photography course to learn how to take beautiful photos. In fact, you don't even need a fancy camera -- all it really takes is a smartphone camera, a good subject, and the patience to learn some specific photo-taking techniques.

For example, learning to place the subjects in certain parts of your photos can go a long way to make your photo appear more balanced. The rule of thirds says to break an image down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically (so you have nine parts in total), and then place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines.

To make this easier, turn on gridlines on your phone by following these steps:

  • iPhone: Go to "Settings," choose "Photos & Camera," and switch "Grid" on.
  • Samsung Galaxy S5: Launch the camera app, go to "Settings," scroll down and tap "Gridlines on."

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Image Credit: Lynda.com

Read through these 17 tips for taking great photos with your smartphone to learn more about how to line up your shots, find interesting perspectives, and take advantage of symmetry, patterns, "leading lines," and more. Then, get in the habit of taking photos on a regular basis to practice.

8) How to edit those photos.

Once you've taken a good photo, don't just call it a day. Learning how to edit those photos can take them from good to great -- and you don't need fancy editing software. There are plenty of free photo editing apps out there.

  • VSCO Cam (free on iOS and Android) is a great choice for editing photos on-the-go, especially if all you want to do is slap on a filter. Their filters have more of a softer, authentic look that resembles real film, as compared with the over-saturated looks of many Instagram filters.
  • Snapseed (also free on iOS and Android) is another solid app for doing some basic image enhancements like tuning, cropping, and straightening.
  • You can also do wonders for an image simply by editing it in the Instagram app -- which is also free. (Read this blog post for step-by-step instructions on how to edit a photo using Instagram.)

Want to edit your photo using Adobe Photoshop? If you don't already own Photoshop, you can try it for free before you commit. And if you want to learn how to use it, you can also do that for free.

9) How to code.

Nowadays, learning the basics of coding is a huge advantage for marketers, entrepreneurs, and other folks in the business world. Even if you don't have to do a lot of hard coding yourself, knowing the basics will help empower you to make quick fixes, and help you communicate effectively with developers when you do need help with something.

While there are plenty of coding courses and bootcamps out there that costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, there are plenty of free online resources you can use to teach yourself.

If you're just looking for a quick overview of how HTML, CSS, and/or JavaScript work, start by reading this blog post that covers the basics of how these three programming languages work.

10) How to implement inbound marketing.

Gaining some real, in-depth marketing knowledge definitely doesn't require signing up for an expensive marketing course. There are tons of free resources out there that'll teach you about everything from the basics for developing a customer-centric inbound strategy, to detailed instructions about how to build an optimized landing page.

Start by heading over to HubSpot Academy, which has a wealth of free resources. The inbound marketing certification course, for example, is a free marketing training course that covers how SEO, blogging, landing pages, lead nurturing, conversion analysis, and reporting come together to form a modern inbound marketing strategy. There are also a whole bunch of helpful training videos on topics like buyer personas, content creation, and more.

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You can also get a Google Analytics certification for free by taking Google's GA proficiency course online, and then passing the Google Analytics IQ exam.

To stay on top of marketing trends and news, you might also subscribe to a handful of marketing blogs. Some of our favorites include Unbounce, CrazyEgg, KISSMetrics, Content Marketing Institute, CopyBlogger, and Search Engine Land. (And HubSpot, of course.)

11) How to read and speak in a foreign language.

While it might take years to become totally fluent in a foreign language, you can get pretty close simply by teaching yourself regularly over a long period of time. And you can do it for free.

If you want to learn the old-fashioned way, you might go to your local library to look for language instruction books you can take out and use without having to buy them.

If you prefer going the app route, DuoLingo (free on iOS and Android) is a language-learning app that actually makes the process fun. Each lesson is short, painless, and super visual. Slate even called it "the most productive means of procrastination I've ever discovered." Plus, the listening components make it great for learning pronunciation -- even on-the-go.

Another simple hack to keep that new language top-of-mind? Simply change your phone and computer interface languages to the foreign language you're learning. (Just make sure you know how to navigate to change the settings back.)

  • iPhone: Open the "Settings" app, and choose "General." Choose "Language & Region" and tap on "iPhone Language." Then, select the language you want to change the iPhone to, and confirm.
  • Android: Open the "Settings" app and select "Languages & input." Select the "Language" option and select the language you want to change your Android device to.

Teaching yourself language skills will only get you so far, though. If you want to practice with other humans (and you live in a city), consider joining language-specific gatherings via Meetup.com, which are volunteer-driven and therefore totally free.

12) How to become a better public speaker.

Did you know that public speaking is the number one fear in America, beating out heights, bugs, and snakes? Whether you share that fear or just want to become a better public speaker, I have good news for you: There's a lot you can do to improve those skills for free, without textbooks or public speaking classes. Here are a few places to start:

Want to see how you look when giving a presentation? Knovio is a cool, free app that lets you upload your presentation slides and then record yourself giving the presentation using the camera on your computer or smartphone. You can either review the video yourself, or share it with coworkers or friends for feedback by posting your Knovio presentation to YouTube, Vimeo, or simply emailing it out.

As with learning languages, teaching yourself public speaking skills will get you to a certain point. Try joining a public speaking group via Meetup.com to practice in front of others.

13) How to meditate.

You might be thinking to yourself: Meditation isn't a business skill! Not so fast, my friend. Turns out starting your day off with a quick meditation session can make you more productive throughout the rest of the day. According to a 2012 study, people who mediated "stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance."

Not sure how to meditate? There are a slew of resources online that'll teach you how to meditate for free. My personal favorite is Headspace, an app that gives you 10 free guided meditation sessions. If you'd rather not pay the monthly subscription fee after that, then try the free guided meditation sessions on UCLA Health that range from three minutes to 20 minutes in length. Here are some more free guided meditation sessions from Fragrant Heart if you can't get enough.

What other skills can you teach yourself for free? Share them with us in the comments.

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Topics: Professional Development

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