This Award-Winning Designer’s Advice for Building a Sustainable Business

From converting vacant buildings to building new neighborhoods, Rainy Hamilton Jr., the co-founder of Hamilton Anderson Associates, a 100% minority-owned Detroit-based firm, is partly responsible for redefining urban areas in Detroit and across the country. With more than 23 years of experience in designing and redesigning structures, we caught up with Hamilton to learn a few tips for building a sustainable business.

Describe the work you are most proud of.
Converting the vacant Strathmore Hotel into a new residential development and City Modern at Brush Park represent our ability to reuse existing structures and conceive new modern buildings for urban living. I am also proud to be involved in the proposed Hudson’s site Development for Rock Ventures, where construction has just begun—a new residential/hotel tower that will be the tallest structure in Detroit. Also near and dear to my heart is Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, designed during the tenure of the legendary, Rev. Dr. Frederick G. Sampson. Lastly, the Detroit School of Arts, a Detroit Public Schools magnet school attended by the loved singer Aaliyah, is a contemporary piece of architecture inspired by the program founder and the musical, communicating light board in movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Photo cred: Hamilton Anderson Associates

Sustainable growth is one of the biggest challenges that a business owner may face. What does it take to build a sustainable business?

  1. Quality Work – any business owner must deliver quality service. We strive to impart to our clients “satisfaction and delight.” It may sound corny but I find that many businesses miss that primary goal. Our work has to be excellent, not perfect, but excellent. And, when we make a mistake, find a solution or several solutions and offer the apology and how you will get things back on track. In essence, treat our clients and customers as you would like to be treated; [with] honesty, transparency, selflessness, integrity, professionalism, and courtesy.
  2. Business Acumen – Understand the business you are in and the financial accounting that is necessary to manage the business. Understand as many aspects of your company’s functions as possible, and be able to execute on all those levels. Insist on documentation, recording expenses, preparing and reviewing the regular financial statement and manage your life as a business/career. Most of what you do during the course of a day will be business related so treat it as such. And always dress for success—an old-school notion that has worked for me.
  3. Passion – the old adage is if you enjoy what you do it will never be work. While it will be work, and lots of it, if you are committed to your profession or chosen business when things get tough, you will be less likely to give up. There will be long days and nights, anxiety, worry, obstacles, politics— both in-house and out—and many, many other challenges. When you are victorious, and hopefully often, pause and celebrate with your team. This is an area where we need to improve!
  4. Prayer – a fourth item; be prayerful. As I considered going out on my own there were two books I was reading: Think and Grow Rich – A Black Choice by Dennis Kimbro; and The Holy Bible – Philippians 4:13 KJV
Photo credit: Hamilton Anderson Associates

What is the top overlooked or underestimated keys to scaling a business?

The top overlooked or underestimated keys to scaling a business is the necessary capital to begin. I began HAA with one credit card and one PC in my home in 1993. The first couple of years were paycheck to paycheck and included a loan from my father and a gift from my mother to meet the monthly obligations. The safety net that I had going for me was I could return to my previous employer, which they were generous enough to offer, because of my performance. There was no greater satisfaction than operating my own enterprise and conducting business in the way I wanted—doing it my way!