Is Freshman Fear Keeping Away Potential Members?

Freshman Fear

Is there anything more frustrating than a qualified prospect that asks all the right questions, listens attentively to what you say and then never comes back?

Is it your pitch? The offer? Your fact sheet or brochure? The “vibe?”

It may be any or all of these, but there’s a good chance you fell victim to what I call “Freshman Fear.”

Freshman Fear comes into play anytime you put someone in a new business or social situation where they are the “new gal” or “new guy.” It’s like being a freshman in a new school where you don’t know anyone, and it triggers three feelings that can drive away even the most mature and self-confident among us:

  1. Apprehension from being in a situation where you’re not in control and don’t know what to expect.
  2. Isolation because you lack your usual support network.
  3. Futility because no matter how hard you try you will inevitably use the wrong door, ask the wrong person or say the wrong thing.

And thanks to evolution, most of us are programmed to avoid situations that cause these sensations.

Now you’re probably thinking this is a bit extreme. After all, you are a very nice person and you run a very friendly Box. Even the most timid visitor has no reason to rush for the door in a cold sweat.

I won’t argue any of that, but what I will argue is that your recruitment efforts will benefit if you take a few of these important proactive steps to counter Freshman Fear:


The clearer you make the process, pricing and service options, the more my sense of control increases and the less apprehension I feel.

This can start with the introduction itself. While it may seem forward, I recommend saying right up front, “I would like 15 minutes of your time so that we can do x, y and z to give you a good sense of what’s here and let you ask any questions.”

Providing a clear time limit, and specific expectations like this, has been shown to make people more relaxed and open to what you have to say. Plus it offers some structure for you so you can be sure the prospect gets the full story the way you want it to be heard.


What’s better for a new freshman than to have a friendly upperclassman offer some friendship and support? You can achieve the same effect when someone other than “the salesman” makes a connection with the prospective member during his or her visit.

One way to do this is to have a designated trainer or Box veteran to show a new visitor around and make introductions. As an added touch, have the follow-up email come from that person to re-emphasize the sense the prospect already has a friend inside looking out for him or her.


Nothing gives someone the sense of belonging like having a role in what’s going on around them. As part of the introduction, have the prospect take equipment out and put it back, review the next day’s WOD, or even put their stuff in a cubby.

As silly as it may sound, even the simplest useful activities help create bonds and increase the sense of belonging. They also result in what we call “rehearsal,” when a prospect undertakes a desired action for the first time even if it’s totally out of context. It breaks down inertia and helps the prospect sees that action as something he or she could do again.

Together, these three steps go a long way toward overcoming the natural resistance we humans have to anything new and different, and provide powerful tools for attracting and engaging motivated and energized new members. So the next time you’re thinking about your selling process ask yourself, are you offering transparency, acceptance and involvement, or is Freshman Fear keeping your prospects away?

Michael McLinden earns his road rash as a serial entrepreneur, and consultant to health, wellness and fitness related companies in the U.S. and Europe with a focus on market analysis, branding and value creation. He has held executive management and strategic planning responsibilities in a number of regional and global advertising and marketing firms, including Mc|K Healthcare, which he co-founded and ran until 2014. He holds an MS from Purdue University and an MBA from TIAS Nimbas business school in the Netherlands. Email him at