Creativity and business can sometimes seem like opposing forces, but that doesn't have to be the case. I recently chatted with New York Real Estate broker, Lee Anderson, who talked me through his experience of that sweet spot where creative endeavour and thriving business become one.
Q1. So, Lee, you combine a successful business with an active interest in the arts. Tell us a little about your company and how your creativity influences the way that you do business.
A1. I work for a real estate company called New York Living Solutions, located in downtown Manhattan – in the financial district, actually. It's really surprising how much creativity this job takes. And on lots of levels, too. For instance, there is a certain amount of artistic talent necessary to design real estate ads, which I do myself. I've always loved to paint and draw, so that comes in handy. I also write my own ads, which is how I finally found a way for that English degree to pay off. Plus, there's the creative aspect of helping people envisage how some empty apartment could be converted into a dream palace with the right design touch. I don't think I could stay interested in any job if it didn't involve creativity to a large extent.
Q2. Do you see opportunities in the creative world being applicable to businesses like yours? I see many authors now offering free ebooks and advice papers, or using promo videos on Youtube as book trailers. Have you considered anything like that to set your business apart?
I'm actually keeping a video blog sponsored by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, called "Alphabet Pony," which I've linked with my business websites. Some of the videos that I post on Alphabet Pony can get pretty artsy and "out there," so some people have told me that I'm being too risky. They ask me how posting stuff that's crazy or weird can help my business image. Personally, I just think it's important to stand out and to offer people ideas that challenge and inspire. I've tried the straight promo idea and it's just not me. Too boring. Besides, that's one of the things that I love about the real estate biz: you can be yourself. People appreciate that, no matter how quirky you are. In my experience, they do, anyway. Helps them remember you too. I worked for years and years at jobs in which I had to be someone else – some stuffed dork in a suit – and I hated it.
Q3. What was it that first drew you to Real Estate as a career choice?
I worked for many, many years in the hotel business, which I'm extremely grateful to. I had some unforgettable experiences. Definitely met some people that I never thought in a million years that I would get to meet. But there came a point where I got tired with working late nights, working weekends, working holidays...there's a profound drawback in working for a business that never closes. I had some former coworker friends who had moved on to try real estate, and the reviews were good. I think it's most people's ultimate hope, right? To be your own boss and to have your own business? When I worked as a journalist, there was a part of me that always felt as if I was spotlighting people who were having a huge, beneficial impact on their environment, and on their city. I kept thinking, wouldn't it be more challenging and fun to have the same impact myself, rather than just standing on the sidelines and writing about it? Real estate is a way of beneficially shaping the physical world by using my talents, including the creative ones. Plus, after getting into a big-time verbal tussle with a lawyer and actually showing him that he was wrong, I was hooked.
Q4. Are there any creative techniques or books that you refer back to?
"The Real Estate Agent's Guide to FSBOs" by John Maloof and "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell. I think it's important to balance the spiritual with business as much as possible, even in my choice of reading material. The only creative technique that I consistently use is to stand out as much as possible, using pictures that no one else has with graphics that are eye-catching enough to entice clients into calling me. I also use testimonials from clients that I've closed, who were more than happy with the service that I gave them.
Q5. Although I'm very tempted to ask you how you might see Campbell's "Hero's Journey" translating into good business practice, let's flip things a little. We've already talked about how a creative approach can be applied to business, so which lessons from the business world – and your own working experience – can be applied to creativity?
Just be disciplined and stay focused. It's all right to let your imagination go crazy, but there still has to be some structure applied to it at some point. Some way of measuring what you want to achieve and how you'll know when you've got there. Plus some quality control of course.
Q6. So, in your own creativity, outside of work, do you set deadlines and goals? And if that's the case, how do you define those parameters?
I believe you HAVE to set a deadline and a goal. Otherwise, how do you get started or know when to finish? Everyone needs a direction and a finish line. Mainly, my own parameters are time-based. I have to post on "Alphabet Pony" daily. I have to generate leads daily. I have to post ads in the New York Times twice a week. Objectives like that. Deadlines and goals drive everything for me.
Q7. Since we've talked about business and creativity and the arts, as a final question, what artwork (of any form) do you own or wish you owned?
My entire apartment is decorated with orginal works of art. Nothing by anybody famous – just friends, mostly. There are also a few pieces that I bought from artists off the street in Soho and Union Square. Come to think of it, I can't imagine my home without them. As far as pieces I would love to own, it'd be nice to have "Starry Night." I know that's an outlandish idea, but you can always hope, right?
A native Floridian, Lee came to New York in 2000. He quickly became an exemplary agent in New York City’s residential real estate market, developing a significant following throughout Manhattan. During his career, he has built strong relationships with several prominent clients and leasing companies. Lee is best known for his ability to comprehensively grasp a client's needs and to negotiate difficult deals. A major advocate for the New York art and literature scene, Lee hosts a monthly reading series in the east village. He also serves as editor-in-chief for Le Chat Noir, a New York artists and writers collective. He maintains a blog for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and when possible, helps with such charities as "Behind the Book," "Children International," and other non-profit organizations. He is an active member of the Real Estate Board of New York.