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Maybe you’ve got your business up and running pretty efficiently and you’re looking to take it to the next level, or maybe you’re looking to streamline your costs. Or maybe both. Whatever your reasoning, it might be worth taking a look into how your business can get ISO 9001 certified. It’s a smart decision that not only can help your org run smoother, but it can snag you contracts and save you costs in the long run.
Never heard of ISO 9001 certification? Let’s start with ISO, which stands for the International Organization for Standardization. It’s an independent, non-governmental body that develops international standards—think specifications and guidelines for manufacturing, health and safety, environmental preservation, etc., that companies use across many different types of industries.
The ISO 9000, which the ISO 9001 is a part of, is a set of standards related to quality management—policies, processes, and procedures for planning and executing the core business of an organization. Getting certified by this outside agency means that your organization is committed to running at tip-top quality standards for both you and your client, and is meeting those standards.
If you’re running a company with ISO 9001 certification, then you’ve been deemed to demonstrate a consistent ability to provide products and services in accordance with customer needs and any applicable statutes or regulations. Which is a nice thing to be able to boast.
But as great as bragging rights are, let’s get down to cash. If you’re still in the preliminary stages of considering ISO 9001 certification for your business, you’ll want to think about the financial advantages of getting certified.
First, you’ll get a certificate from a certification body that lets you label a product or process as being ISO 9001:2015 certified. Since that means it’s certified to being produced to the highest quality standard, your product or service could be picked over another that doesn’t have the same guarantee behind it.
It could go further, even: Your organization could also find it easier to receive public-sector tenders and private contracts. Because the ISO 9001 is an internationally recognized standard in 178 countries, those customers understand certification is associated with an ongoing high-quality output from a company.
Also, your insurance premiums may go down. Certification can lower the level of risk in some industries—and the likelihood of being found liable for accidents may go down, too. A snow-plowing company that investigated slip and fall legal cases found that about 70% of them were dismissed in court when those companies proved they applied ISO quality management systems during snow removal.
There are certain industries for which ISO 9001 certification is particularly applicable. They include:
Also, the ISO has sector-specific 9001 standards for particular industries. They are:
Your business can get certified regardless of its size or type. By deciding to move forward, you’d be part of a group of more than 1 million other organizations across the world who’ve done the same.
The ISO 9001 is super-comprehensive in the quality management standards it sets out for products created and delivered to customers. There are lots of categories. They are:
While taking a training course to prepare for ISO 9001 certification, managerial representatives from your business will learn how to create a quality management system that covers the areas above. You’ll get all of the know-how and tools needed to plan and implement an quality management system up to the ISO 9001 standards, plus perform your own regular internal audits to maintain its upkeep.
Some online courses deliver the training in about 12 hours. In other cases, a trainer may come to your facility, or you might choose an off-site educational option that involves going to a campus in your area.
Sounds like you want to go for it? Cool. You’re deciding to provide customers with products and services of consistently high quality. It requires your organization to ensure customer expectations are met, and also that practices are continually improving as needed.
The ISO 9001 standard requires that every leader in your organization is implementing the quality management system created for your business under the certification. So, there’s not just one person making sure that best practices are implemented and effective—everyone on your team has to be on board.
Once you’ve decided that your operation can benefit, here’s how your business can get ISO 9001 certified. The first step in the process involves working with a qualified third-party company that provides accredited ISO 9001 certifications and training. You can find one via the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), which operates globally.
The ISO recommends contacting the accreditation body in your country as a first step to finding a reputable third-party provider. Working with an accredited company isn’t mandatory. However, accreditation is often viewed as an independent verification of competence.
Next, an external ISO auditor assesses your company’s current quality management systems to see how far they are from the ISO 9001 standards. After a company goes through the necessary steps to create and put into action the new quality management system that complies with ISO 9001, the auditor returns.
If everything is in order—fingers crossed!—you’ll get recommended for certification. An approvals process review that occurs after the final audit is necessary before you’ll get your certificate.
To remain ISO 9001 certified, your organization must undergo annual surveillance audits. Just like that initial auditing process to get your first certification, a person trained as an ISO auditor performs those checks. So, this should be old hat to you by now. They’ll take a peek at your quality management system and decide whether you’re holding up your end of the bargain and also making improvements along the way.
Then, after three years, a recertification audit is carried out. It’s possible to lose your certification for big violations, like knowingly concealing product defects and continuing to sell the items anyway. (Don’t do that. Just don’t.) However, the auditor associated with a certification body might provide a timeframe to give businesses in danger of having their ISO 9001 certifications revoked time to make amends.
The length of time that passes before your company gets certified varies and is often size-dependent. For example, a company with fewer than 50 employees could get certified in as few as six months—that’s good news for a small business. If you’re running a shop with more than the 500 employees, though, you might be waiting upwards of a year.
Also, if your current quality management process barely resembles what’s spelled out in ISO 9001 standards—or you don’t have any procedures in place at all—gear up for the process to take longer.
On the other hand, maybe you’re already doing things at your business such as:
Those are some of the many steps contained within a quality management system. If they’re already part of your organization’s operations, you’ll likely find it easier to become ISO 9001 certified compared to starting from scratch.
Also, the third-party companies responsible for sending auditors to your organization for the initial certification audits make independent decisions about how long your quality management system should be in place before the audit happens. Therefore, that’ll affect the your overall time frame for certification.
Just like your timeline for certification, your cost will also depend on company size and what kind of procedures you do (or don’t) already have in place.
Taking a do-it-yourself approach by purchasing educational materials from the ISO or a third-party company could cost slightly less than $1,000 for the training and implementation stages. However, you might prefer to hire a consultant to guide you through the process from start to finish. In that case, the cost could be $50,000 or more.
Is it worth it? That’s a lot of money, sure. But there’s research to back up the likelihood that you’ll see long-term monetary advantages from certification.
In 2012, a compilation of 42 studies on financial benefits of ISO 9001 certification of ISO 9001 certification revealed that certification had a direct relationship to increased sales. That researchers concluded it was not determinable whether the boost in sales happened because consumers perceived that certification signaled a high-quality company or because those customers felt more satisfied by what the organizations provided. (Either way, it was money in the bank.)
Because the certification is recognized around the world, you could find it makes your company more competitive, regardless of its location.
After achieving certification, your company will use well-defined, clearly documented procedures to guide processes. That means you can phase out outdated, inefficient, or unnecessary ways of doing things and replace them with more effective, appropriate methods. Your company is less vulnerable to mistakes or waste time since it’s following best practices—and efficiency will hopefully translate to a better bottom line.
In 2016, QMS International, a company that helps companies achieve ISO 9001 certification, surveyed 330 of its clients. In its results, more than half of their clients saw increased customer satisfaction following their certifications.
Plus, customers appreciate getting high-quality products every time they do business with an ISO 9001 certified company—and certification signifies outstanding quality.
Another part of the QMS International poll asked respondents why they chose to get certified. The majority—74%—did so to demonstrate excellence. Plus, 47% of those who either primarily got certified to show excellence or for a tender mentioned they gained new customers as a result of their efforts.
The use of quality management systems is common in the manufacturing sector, especially for automation practices. But it can be invaluable in customer-facing, service-oriented industries, too. For example, JM Electrical, which provides electricians from its base in Lynnfield, Mass., got ISO 9001 certified and found its customers rated the service given as good or excellent 96% of the time during a five-year span after certification.
The Hilton hotel chain opted to go through the process of getting ISO 9001 certification, too. It realized doing so gave its global stakeholders assurance the brand was upholding consistently high standards at more than 3,750 properties. Hilton’s decision helped solidify its continued prominence in the hospitality market. And there are benefits across industries—Intelex, a company that offers cloud-based software related to ISO certifications, found 85% of certified companies reported an increased market share, plus greater demand for products and services.
Choosing whether to get ISO 9001 certification requires careful thought. Although being certified is a sign of credibility that could help you attract more business and score important contracts, you have to have the cash flow to get the process underway and then maintain your quality management system thereafter.
Also, since part of the certification requires that your managers must show an ongoing commitment to the quality management system, they have to be fully on board with the associated responsibility. Keeping future goals in mind is an important way for a leadership team to decide whether to move forward with the certification process.