The "Gun to the Forehead" Technique to Instantly Grab Attention

Competition on Upwork is fierce (for you, not for me, but more on that later)...

Depending on the gig, there could be 20 to 50 proposals by the time you get there.

So a lot of people will say it's a waste to apply - that unless you are one of the first 1-3 applicants, you don't stand a chance to get a response.

100% Bullshit.

Clients do NOT respond to the first person who applies, or even whoever is at the top, unless they believe that that person is the exact right fit for the job.

When I post a job, I read every proposal, even after a good match shows up.

Doesn't matter if I've already responded to someone.

Just because I interview a freelancer, doesn't mean I'm going to hire them, so I keep reading proposals as they come in to see if anyone better applies.

What I'm looking for is someone who meets the 3 C's.

Someone competent...

Who instills confidence that they can do the job right, do it well, and do it on time...

So that I will feel comfortable going forward with them.

To that end, I read every proposal because I want to find the exact right person and I don't want to waste money on the wrong person.

Thing is...

I'm busy and I don't have a lot of time to spend on each proposal, so instead of reading the whole thing, I skim for clues that quickly reveal if they might be a good fit.

In other words, I'm looking for something that stands out.

The freelancer who does something that grabs my attention, and shows me that they are an interesting candidate worth taking a closer look at...

That's who usually gets a response.

Here's an overview of my current hiring process:

  1. Quickly scan every proposal I get to see who stands out
  2. Save everyone who stands out for further review
  3. Archive all of the rest to clear the clutter
  4. Spend time reading each full proposal for those who stood out
  5. Respond to 1-4 freelancers who might be a good fit
  6. Continue reviewing new proposals as they come in
  7. Respond to anyone else who might be a fit (unless I've already hired)

This isn't just how I do it.

It's the same approach used by smart clients all over the world.

We don't just look for the person at the top, or the one with the most experience or training. 

We also don't just look for people who say, "I'm qualified."

We look for clues.

Clues like when someone says something that stands out in such a relevant, powerful way that we simply can't ignore them.

Imagine shopping in the grocery store, minding your own business - someone walks up, pulls a gun, and puts it against your temple.

Tell me, are you still reading the ingredients list on the side of that cereal box now?

No, you are not.

Every ounce of your attention is trained on the outstretched arm, attached to a hand, attached to a gun, pressed against your forehead. 

Whatever you were thinking about before, is irrelevant.

You give all of your attention the gunperson... to their words, to their behaviors, and to their intentions.

A gun to the head stands out.

Question is, how can you do that with your proposals?

Headlines my friend, headlines.

I'm talking about a few words or a quick statement at the beginning of your proposal that reveals certain bite-sized bits about you to the client.

Things like:

  • Why you are the exact right solution to their problem
  • What you are like as a person
  • How well you understand their needs

Your headline is the very first sentence of your proposal, even before the greeting.

It has to make a statement about you that grabs attention like a gun to the forehead.

What Makes a Good Headline?

Keep It to 11 Words or Less

Capitalize the First Letter of Key Words

Say Something Relevant

Make Them Laugh

Demonstrate Your Credibility

Make the Style Fit Their Brand

Be the Solution to Their Exact Problem

Your headline doesn't have to meet every criteria above, but in general, the more the better.

Headline Examples

Financial Copywriter for Hire

Food Blogger Who Won't Eat Your Profits!

Military Veteran Web Designer

Web Designer for Banks

Virtual Assistant Who Showers Monthly

Tech Writer Who Isn't Afraid to Push Big Red Buttons

The Avada Kedavra Copywriter! (Won't Kill Your Sales Tho)

Each headline should be unique for the client's specific job post, and their needs. 

If a client asks for a funny direct-response copywriter for a dog brand, then I might say something like, Direct Response Copywriter Who Turns Tricks for Snacks - It's relevant because I said I'm the exact thing they need, and it's silly to show I have a sense of humor (funny).

If they ask for a copywriter for a conservative site, I might start with, Let's Go Brandon Copywriter for Hire! Again, for this specific client, it is a relevant headline that targets something they likely find humorous, and shows that I have a sense of humor too.

But it's not all about humor. 

Sometimes it's just a matter of saying, I do exactly what you said you need.

The way you say that without saying that is like this...

If they need a WordPress Web Developer, my headline might be, WordPress Web Developer for Hire or even just WordPress Web Developer.

Either of those would be fine even though they're not humorous and don't add huge amounts of credibility. 

They describe exactly what the client is looking for, and that's enough to get you sorted into the "SAVE" pile for further review.

Still with me?

There is no "one right headline." 

You need to try different ideas for each client to figure out what will work best for each type of client that you apply to.

If you need help with ideas, I've just added a bunch of new headline templates and concepts into Freelance University.

When you start to get results from one of your headlines, (meaning you get more responses when you use that headline vs other headlines or no headline at all) then you can keep using that same headline over and over for that type of client as long as it fits their job post.

That way you don't have to come up with a new headline every single time.

Real-World Example

Let's look at a real-world example that got a response in less than 5-minutes.

Here's the job post...

And here's what I applied with:

"U.S. Army Veteran Article Writer For Hire"

The job post title was, "Blog writing (military veterans)."

Being a military veteran was something very important to this client, so I knew that using those exact words in the headline would stand out.

Likewise, the client talked about article-writing experience, so I used those words in the headline as well.

All of this told the client:

  • Why I was the exact right solution to their problem
  • What I am like as a person
  • How well I understood their needs

That was enough to get a closer look and to slice through all of the BS noise.

Everything the client needs to know about you should be summarized in your headline.

This shows them that you respect their time.

More importantly, it demonstrates competence.

It shows that you care about the client, reveals a lot about how you think, and proves you are professional enough to go the extra step.

You are competent, and therefore, you are worth a closer look.

Make sense?


Headlines are powerful tools that stand out and grab attention like a gun to the forehead.

Thus, the "Gun to the Forehead" technique.

A good headline almost guarantees your proposal will get read even if there are already 20-50 other proposals in the stack.


That's it for today.

Go out there, find gigs, and use the magic of headlines to attract attention, and boost your responses, and when you come back tomorrow we'll go over the biggest secret to easily write super attractive proposals...

See you then,
Lex DeVille