Everything Small Businesses Need to Know About ISO Certification

The ISO 9000 international standard family is primarily meant to normalize and maintain various aspects of quality management. ISO 9001, one of the most prominent, explicitly establishes best-practices for Quality Management Systems (QMS) across a variety of industries.

In 2016, the total number of certificates recorded across nine ISO standards was eight percent higher than the year prior. In addition, 834 certificates were spread across two new ISO standards, bringing the true total even higher. Many more organizations started to see the benefits of adopting these standards and have had their processes and systems certified as a result.

Naturally, the standard has created a lot of confusion and disarray in regards to certification, and why it exists. Many believe, for example, you must have an ISO 9001 certification to pass an audit successfully. They look at it as a forced endeavor or limitation, rather than a path to improvement. In turn, this breeds negative sentiment like it’s too difficult for small businesses, it doesn’t improve quality nor worth the effort, and it’s merely a paper-intensive process tacking on extra work.

In reality, companies and teams that adopt the ISO 9001 standard have found it’s easier to facilitate, and also offers several improvements for their processes and quality of work. In fact, that’s exactly why it exists.

To understand the benefits, however, you have to get to the root of the concept. What do you need to know about ISO certification, and why would it interest you? Furthermore, what’s the difference between certification and compliance?

What Do You Need to Know About ISO Certification?

In short, you can look at ISO certification, or more specifically ISO 9001, as a foundation for improvement.

It all relates to a modern QMS, or Quality Management System. This is a formalized platform, or system, designed to streamline business operations, policies and objectives. Such a thing is achieved by establishing and documenting standard practices, processes, procedures and responsibilities of your business.

In other words, the QMS helps direct you, your team and involved parties to meet certain requirements, which can relate to customers, regulations and responsibilities. It’s all about product or service quality, and industry-wide standardization. Today, the quality of a product has a direct influence on your profits and success. It’s also a matter of protecting citizens — read consumers — from sub-par business practices.

As a small business — especially if new to all of this — it can seem daunting and unnecessary. But really, it’s a business development or improvement opportunity you shouldn’t overlook.

What Are the Small Business Benefits of ISO Certification? 

ISO 9001: 2015 is one of the most widely recognized and adopted standards across the world. It expressly details requirements and regulatory measures for a QMS that organizations big and small will need to follow when developing their own system or process.

Because of this, we will focus almost solely on ISO 9001. However, the rest of the ISO 9000 family — including ISO 9004 — is something to consider, as well.

Before going further, it’s also important to mention that any organization using the ISO 9001: 2008 standard must transition to the newest version by September 14th, 2018. You can read more about the deadline and how to start your transition here, including details on what’s required for SMB to get an ISO 9001 certification.

As for the benefits a small or micro business can expect from adopting the ISO standard, there are several.

  • It confirms you have put in the effort to improve and maintain your systems so as to meet the regulatory standards. In a way, it tells everyone, including customers that your business is trustworthy and can supply a consistent and reliable product or service.
  • By maintaining the process and further reviewing compliance your business will provide a higher level of customer satisfaction while improving overall efficiency and performance of operations.
  • Your personnel, staff and partners have an established plan to follow that keeps all processes operating efficiently.
  • It helps establish a formalized hierarchy and responsibility plan for everyone on your team, allowing you to discern who is in charge of what and how.
  • It helps when tendering new customers and increasing business opportunities; new customers can see the certification building initial trust and rapport.
  • It helps mitigate the risk of mistakes, as problems are recorded, tracked and handled appropriately. When a new problem is encountered, it receives full documentation. Then later, any problems that appear are resolved more speedily thanks to established strategies.

There are more, but we made sure to discuss the most influential benefits here. This all ties back into why a business would want to adopt or achieve an ISO certification, however. Overall, it’s a move toward efficiency and improvement, and a promise to customers that you will follow the appropriate regulations and standards.

Compliance vs. Certification

Compliance means merely adopting a Quality Management System based on ISO standards. You can be compliant and not have a certification, just as you can have a certification and not be compliant. They are not necessarily synonymous with one another.

One option you may overlook or avoid completely is being ISO compliant without going through the certification audit process. Compliance is less costly because it excludes audit costs, not recognized internationally and much simpler to follow. Of course, the downside is you are more likely to see customer audits of your system. That alone can drive the need to chase certification over compliance, especially when you consider the costs of a potential audit.

We don’t recommend doing such a thing of course, as ISO certification is honestly in your best interest and in the interest of your customers, as well. And that’s true of any size business, even the smallest around.

 

By Nathan Sykes

About the author

Nathan Sykes is the founder of Finding an Outlet, where he covers business and technology.

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