How Small Businesses Can Achieve ISO 9001

How Small Businesses Can Achieve ISO 9001

In today’s fast-paced and competitive business landscape, maintaining high-quality standards is crucial for success. One powerful tool that has emerged as a benchmark for quality management is ISO 9001. This blog post serves as a summary guide for small business owners, covering what ISO 9001 is, how to obtain it, and common pitfalls to avoid. By the end, you will have a clear understanding of how this internationally recognised standard can transform your organisations quality management practices, enhance customer satisfaction, and drive long-term success. So, let’s embark on this journey to demystify ISO 9001 and unlock its potential for your business!

What actually is ISO 9001?

ISO 9001 is an internationally recognised standard for quality management systems. It sets out the criteria that organisations need to meet in order to demonstrate their ability to consistently provide products/services that meet customer and regulatory requirements. It focuses on various aspects of quality management, including customer satisfaction, continuous improvement, and the establishment of processes to ensure efficient operations. 

By implementing ISO 9001, organisations can enhance their overall performance, increase customer satisfaction, and improve their competitiveness in the marketplace. The standard emphasises a process-based approach, risk-based thinking, and the involvement of top management in driving quality initiatives. ISO 9001 certification is often sought by businesses to showcase their commitment to quality and to gain a competitive edge in their industry.

ISO 9001 is flexible and not overly prescriptive. The 2015 update embraced “risk-based thinking,” reflecting how business owners operate. With ISO 9001, you are required to define your own processes, address fundamental requirements, and adhere to them. However, it is crucial to have documented information as evidence of your compliance with the standard.

Why should businesses go for accreditation?

The first question to ask is: Why do you want ISO 9001? It is crucial to ensure that the decision to pursue accreditation stems from a genuine desire for it. While accreditation bodies may emphasise the business improvement aspect, the true driving force behind seeking ISO 9001 often lies in customer demands, expectations, or the need to secure new business opportunities. For instance, a client we worked with experienced a remarkable transition, expanding from £1 million in domestic projects to £4 million in commercial projects after achieving ISO 9001 certification.

To embark on this journey, businesses need to make certain commitments. Three key questions need to be asked: 

  • Are you eager to grow your business and enhance its capacity? 
  • Are you willing to subject your record-keeping and performance management to external scrutiny? 
  • Are you and your team prepared to make necessary changes in the way you operate? 

By obtaining ISO 9001, businesses can streamline processes, save time, and reduce costs. For example, an engineering client we assisted previously overlooked capturing decisions during design reviews, leading to repetitive mistakes. However, with an improved process in place, they are already reaping the benefits of enhanced efficiency and error prevention.

Ultimately, ISO 9001 accreditation presents businesses with a valuable opportunity to meet customer expectations, pursue new growth opportunities, and optimise their operations for long-term success.

How do I get ISO 9001?

Obtaining ISO 9001 certification is a significant milestone for any organisation committed to quality management. If you’re wondering how to embark on this journey, here are the key steps involved:

  • First, conduct a thorough comparison of your existing processes against the requirements outlined in the ISO 9001 standard. This evaluation, often referred to as a gap analysis, will help identify areas where your organisation needs to improve or align with the standard. 
  • Once the gaps are identified, take action to close them by implementing the necessary changes and improvements. This could involve revising procedures, training employees, or implementing new quality management practices. 
  • The next crucial step is to undergo an assessment conducted by a UKAS-accredited body such as NQA or BSI. They will evaluate your organisation’s compliance with the ISO 9001 standard and, if successful, grant you a three-year certificate. It’s important to note that the accredited body will also conduct annual surveillance visits to ensure ongoing compliance with the standard. UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) is a government-recognised body that oversees the accreditation process and ensures the competence of certification bodies. While it is possible to obtain a non-UKAS ISO 9001 certificate, opting for UKAS accreditation is highly recommended, especially if you have serious intentions or plan to work with the public sector or on publicly funded projects. 

By following these steps diligently, your organisation can achieve ISO 9001 certification and demonstrate its commitment to delivering quality products and services. 

Now, let’s explore how to implement an ISO 9001 system. The key message is that you already have a system in place; your task is to document and improve it. There are four main approaches: off-the-shelf solutions (mostly paper-based), digital compliance tools, a do-it-yourself (DIY) method by reading and implementing the standard, or seeking consultant support. As a consultant, we offer assistance in refining your existing system, including IT integration.

What are the common pitfalls for small businesses?

When it comes to implementing ISO 9001, several common pitfalls can hinder small businesses from achieving success. Firstly, many small businesses neglect to conduct internal audits of their systems, which is a crucial requirement for ISO 9001 compliance. It is essential to schedule an internal audit at least once a year, even if it means bringing in an independent auditor. As an experienced consultants, we often assist clients in fulfilling this requirement. Another challenge faced by small businesses is a lack of documented information. In many cases, these businesses are operated by a few individuals or families who do not have a habit of recording decisions and actions. To address this, a management review process must be implemented to document significant decisions, risks, and opportunities. Additionally, a supplier evaluation process should be established to evaluate suppliers and maintain records of the evaluation. We draw on our experience from a range of sectors to develop processes which suit our clients. Lastly, it’s important to dispel the misconception that a fancy system or elaborate manual is necessary for ISO 9001. While a manual is not mandatory, it is helpful to have a system in place that can effectively explain your processes to auditors during the certification process. 

If you are a business owner contemplating ISO 9001 we recommend you start by reading the standard, which is only 20 pages long, and determine if there is a business case for pursuing accreditation. Then seek assistance to conduct a thorough gap analysis and develop an action plan then. 

If would like personalised guidance we invite you to schedule a free 1-2-1 meeting with our ISO 9001 expert Linda Carrington ( to discuss your specific needs and explore the potential benefits of ISO 9001 for your business. Contact us for more information

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