How ISO 9001 can help you grow your small business

  • 19 Jul 2022
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In this episode, we look at exactly what ISO 9001 is, and why it is important to open doors for your business. Plus, some practical tips for how small businesses can achieve ISO 9001 certification - or transfer their ISO 9001 certification to an online platform, including some advice on documenting existing

This week's guests:

Cheryl Stevens

Product Manager for
CertSmartTM, LRQA

Ali Kheradnejad

IATF Auditor,

Full episode transcript

Sponsor's message This episode is in partnership with CertSmart powered by LRQA. Designed specifically for Small Business in the UK, CertSmart offers the best in class and best in price UKAS accredited ISO 9001 certification. Get certified and grow your business faster. Get a quote in under 2 minutes at today

Jon Watkins Welcome to this latest First Voice podcast brought to you by First Voice magazine, the official flagship magazine of the Federation of small businesses, and the go-to podcast for news, tips and important information for small businesses and self employed. This episode, we are looking at how small businesses can achieve ISO 9001. Now if you are a small business that fulfils contractual obligations or delivers goods and services to other businesses, then you'll likely have heard of ISO 9001. Because lots of those businesses you supply or want to supply will likely require that you have it. So in this episode, we will look at some practical tips for how small businesses can achieve it. Or indeed how they can transfer their ISO 9001 certification to an online platform, including some practical tips on documenting existing procedures. But we will also look at exactly what it is and why it's important, so that if you don't currently have it, or you're thinking about it and considering it, then you understand the doors that it can open for your small business. To help me explore all of those issues, I am joined by two guests. Cheryl Stevens is the product manager for CertSmart™, the LRQA platform which delivers straightforward, affordable and UKAS accredited services for small, single-site businesses, including ISO 9001. And Ali Kheradnejad, who is one of LRQA's most experienced auditors, particularly with small businesses, and will give us valuable insights on the challenges, pitfalls and solutions for small businesses looking to achieve certification. Thank you both very much for joining us. It's good to have you here. Thank you, Cheryl. I'm going to start with you if that's all right. Can you set out exactly what ISO 9001 is? And why it's valuable to small businesses?

Cheryl Stevens Sure, yeah. Thanks, John. So ISO 9001 is an international standard is used for defining a quality management system, or you might be aware of the term of a QMS. So this QMS standard provides the requirements that should be implemented into a company that it just helps them create all their processes, procedures, policies, things that are necessary to provide products and services to meet the regulatory and customer requirements. 9001 is probably the best known standard. But there are many standards out there covering all sorts of areas from environmental health and safety, medical, the list just goes goes on. It is used by around 1 million companies worldwide. And the size of the company doesn't matter, that can be anything from one person flying solo, to an organisation of 100,000 team members, it doesn't really matter. It also doesn't matter, the industry that you're in, it's a truly inclusive standard. So yes, there's many businesses that use the ISO 9000 as standard and some of those reasons are for you know, the way that it works, it helps to save time, around more efficient resource management. It helps to identify reoccurring problems that anomalies so that you can look at how you can reduce them and eliminate them. But I think most importantly, one of the reasons that we find is that it's a way to increase profit potential and market share. At LRQA, we often see clients that you know, start their certification journey, because they've got an opportunity to grow or to tender for a large, you know, for large client. So it's really seen as a way to propel your growth with larger organisations, or maybe working in public sectors because it will allow you to get on the supplier approval list. It's just that way of showing that you operate to a higher level of quality management within your business, and that you comply to all that standard structure. Just on the flipside of that, it can also limit your ability to engage with some of those businesses if you don't have your ISO 9001.

Jon Watkins Brilliant, so some really clear benefits for small businesses there. Yeah. Where did they go to get it and who supplies it?

Cheryl Stevens Yeah, so firstly, Jon just going back a step there. You know, there's many small businesses that are at the start of their ISO 9000 journey. And when you start it, it can seem really daunting. There's plenty of jargon in this industry in technical spake so sometimes a little bit of help at the beginning can be really beneficial. So a lot of clients that we have used consultants, it is a good way to help them start their journey, but they do carry lots of costs. So I understand how difficult that can be for small businesses. So if you can't engage with a consultant, what I would suggest is that you can absolutely do this on your own. And you'll probably be further down on your journey than you think certification bodies have a good way of finding information, their websites have got lots of tips and templates that can help small business owners, for example, at LRQA, we have CertSmart™, that's completely designed around small businesses, which can help you know customers support them on their initial journey, but there's many CBs and they, you know, they they can all look at, I would suggest that your, you know, the listeners look at others just to see what else is out there to offer. So talking about that, you say, where can I get my audit from audits are completed by your certification bodies, or CBs. And there's many of them to choose from, you can do a simple search on the internet. And this will provide a list of companies for you to work with. Try not to choose the first one at the top of your search page. Ideally, choose one that is UKAS accredited, as that is, you know, shows that your certification body, body has the ability to certify your business to that highest level. And your certificate will also carry the UCAS assured logo, which shows you know, carries that quality brand and confidence level to your prospects, you know, your prospect customers or clients. And some clients won't accept your certificate unless it carries that UKAS logo. So make sure that you look and choose your certification body that you want to work with wisely.

Jon Watkins Okay, talk about sort of, you know, reputable providers there. What do you what do you mean exactly by that? You know, and what are some of the pitfalls of not going with reputable provider?

Cheryl Stevens Yeah, John, as with all things, you know, there's companies out there that will offer certification that are not UKAS accredited, and they do this generally, for a much lower price point. Now, some of those companies are fine to work with. But it could potentially cost you in the long run, because again, if your prospect clients want that UKAS logo for that higher level of insurance on your certificate, then essentially, that certificate that you're produced by the non-accredited UCAS, would, you know, you'd end up paying for it again, there's also as there always is, there's some rogue companies out there. So please be careful. If you see anything where they're offering you a certificate, for a very minimum price, you know, around 100 to 400 pounds, all I can say is there really is no cheap and easy way to get an ISO 9001 certificate, and the small business owners will only end up paying again. So it's best, you know, use accredited provider, choose wisely. And then you know, again, choose based on what your customer is demanding. And that will help you save your costs in the long run.

Jon Watkins Yeah, some really good points there around the kind of benefits for small businesses, where you can get it from and the importance of going with reputable providers, which you know, stands to reason and works across lots of things that small businesses are looking looking to achieve. Ali, I'd like to move on a little bit and talk about the process of achieving ISO 9001 accreditation, how exactly does that process work? What would small firms need to do to achieve it?

Ali Kheradnejad To be honest, John, the process starts from the initial initial stages, stage one or stage two, and it's not that much different from the large organisation, the only difference is the planning for the larger organisation with the multisite is more time consuming and should be more preparation for the auditors, what for the small businesses is fairly simple. And in the planning, it can be much easier. The stage one is basically to review the documentation and preparation of the organisation for for the ISO 9001 quality management systems and it normally it is one day or half a day review of the documentation it can be conducted remotely as well. And after approval for the minimum requirements, you can be recommended for the stage two and stage two basically reviewing the and auditing the old processes. Obviously key processes of the organisation from the starting point to the ending point of the process approach which basically if there is any customer approaching to the business, what journey are they going to have the end of the process and this is the initial stage of the ISO 9001 and after that there is some surveillance visit depending on the contract that the business is going to have the certification body which can be an under 6 monthly surveillance visit, or a nine monthly or three yearly. Certification, that duration is three years from the starting point to the expiry and then after that certificate renewal audit, that is normally the case. And the surveillance visit normally is shorter. But for the small businesses, it's not going to be that different because it's going to be one day normally, for the for the surveillance visit or cert renewal.

Jon Watkins It sounds pretty pain free. What tips do you have to help small businesses achieve accreditation quickly? And I guess in a hassle free way? And what are some of the challenges that small businesses might face in terms of achieving accreditation or implementing a QMS?

Ali Kheradnejad The biggest challenge, I would say if they if an organisation wanted to apply for the ISO 9001 certification is basically then the language of the standard is a bit confusing, I would say it was for me as well, when I was starting this job and gradually understood and what the requirements are and the what's the expectation et cetera, et cetera. But for a new new organisation, it can be quite time consuming, confusing. And just to avoid that, it's, maybe it's better to use some, some explanations, some resources, some books that can somehow help organisations, some of them they use the consultants, which is fine. But the biggest challenges I saw in some specific clauses and a small organisation, for example, for the internal audit, and the matter of the impartiality, it's really hard to find somebody impartial to the business to the to conduct internal audits. So this is the one of the challenges I saw in the small organisations are how they can find somebody to conduct their internal audits, but if they understand the requirements, maybe it makes it much easier for them to overcome these challenges.

Jon Watkins Yes, and you're in auditor Ali, so what exactly are auditors looking for? And how can awareness of that help small businesses reach their aim a bit quicker if you've got a kind of practical example of that.

Ali Kheradnejad The most important thing for the auditor is a risk based thinking and process approach. Basically, what we are looking for is to understand the key processes in the organisation from the starting point to the ending point, and how the organisation is ensuring these processes are being working as they've been expected to and also how they've been monitoring in terms of the performance and if there is any shortage in the stats, the efficiency basically in the process, and how they can be picked up and how they can improve it. So continual improvement is another thing that they need to consider monitoring the measuring equipment, which we call that calibration is very important if it's a manufacturing processes and ensuring the customer is protected is another thing that we are keen to see in the process that how organisation is ensuring that customer, final customer or next customer is is protected in the process.

Jon Watkins Superb, and Ali just finally from you. You know we've talked a lot about achieving ISO 9001, but you know there's some stuff here for firms that have already done so they don't have to stay with their current provider do they, what are the benefits of considering a move if you've already achieved your ISO 9001?

Ali Kheradnejad I will say the best thing is the value for money basically. Sometimes you're stuck with one certification body because you're used to them and but the thing is maybe you don't get much from that certification body as the value for money and also the quality of the audit - because I would say in some of the audits are normally, when I audit, what is important for me is the value-add and what I'm adding to that business as an auditor. It's not only auditing, it's just bringing some new questions and challenges that for the organisation And to see some different perspectives for improvement. So for those organisations, they can look around and see if there is any other certification bodies with a maybe more competitive prices or better performance, always I don't say the better prices means a better choice. But sometimes the achievement of the clients after being seen by the certification body can indicate that the certification body is looking after the clients basically better and the success of their clients is considered a success of that certification body. So that is something that they can look around and find some some organisation certification bodies with better performance and know it's very easy to move on from when they have this certification ISO 9001 done, the simplest thing is to raise an inquiry, find the new certification body and then request for the transition from transfer of the certification from the current CB to the to the new CB and also informing the current CB as well. So the process is fairly simple. And the transferred audit is going to take place and that's easy. That's going to be moved on and at the stage level that they are currently, they remain with the new certification body as well. So they don't have to start on the stage 1 or stage 2 if they have valid certification already.

Jon Watkins Yeah, and I'm sure that cost saving message is one that resonates with our audience right now, given the increased cost of doing business that we're experiencing at the moment. Cheryl, I'll just bring you back in if you don't mind. Anything to add on those those points. Just to summarise for us, perhaps, and where can our audience find out more about this.

Cheryl Stevens Yeah, absolutely, John. So really everything that Ali has said, obviously, the whole certification journey and then transferring that certificate. For anybody that wants to know anything else, you can always search on, you can find out what we offer here at LRQA to to support small businesses, we actually have two small business programmes within the business. There is a live chat function on the website. So if you have any questions and you need an incident response, then you can speak to a real person because that's connected directly to a person and not a bot. And also there is some contact us numbers on the website. So again, if you want to speak to one of our amazing team there, there'll be able to help you and support you on that certification journey.

Jon Watkins That's brilliant. Thanks, Cheryl. And thanks, Ali for that brilliant walkthrough the value of ISO 9001 And how small businesses can secure it, use it to grow and ensure it is from and with a reputable provider. Thank you. Thank you also, no you're welcome. Thank you also to our audience for listening. While I have your attention, as always I would just like to remind you that you can subscribe to the First Voice podcast to receive regular updates and guidance on the big issues affecting small businesses. And do please also remember that you can find a whole host of additional webinars, podcasts and other content on the First Voice website at Many thanks for joining us.

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