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ISO 9001 for Small Businesses

22 May 2017

Over the last 14 months, UK Regional Assessor Shaun Corkerry has visited many companies for NQA, the biggest surprise for him was how long established some of them were. Read this article to get tips on how to have a successful long standing business.

Over the last 14 months, I have visited many companies for NQA, the biggest surprise for me was how long established some of them were. The oldest company I visited was established in Preston in 1887, I recently visited another in Leeds established in 1912 (first job, helping to fit out the ill-fated Titanic) and a few weeks ago an engineering company in Manchester established in 1926!

Of course when these companies were founded there was no such thing as ISO 9001… In 1901 however, engineering product standards written by the Engineering Standards Committee were published and the Ministry of Munitions standards had exercised great influence during World War One in introducing Quality Inspection Techniques to factories that had never worked on military equipment before.    

When BS 5750 was introduced in the 1980’s, the popular conception of quality standards was that they were intended for large companies producing complex equipment or running large projects. The company I worked for considered BS 5750 in the 1980’s but dismissed it as it was for “big companies” – they employed 600 people!

ISO 9001:2015 is different from the quality standards that came before it, in that its starting point was "what do successful companies do?"

By definition, successful companies make a profit and meet the needs of their customers and interested parties. They typically have very high customer retention, have a good reputation and have lots of repeat business.

The common factor in all the companies I talk about above is that they all share these attributes. They also do all the things specified in ISO 9001:2015, though the founders would probably not recognize the terminology used in it!

ISO 9001:2015 is a great guidance tool for companies of whatever size, but its principles in my view work especially well for the smaller companies now making up most of the UK economy.

If we look at the seven guiding principles which underpin ISO 9001:2015, you can see what successful (and long lived) businesses do:

Customer Focus

Since the goal of a company is to provide products or services to customers, it makes sense that there is a focus on customers and their requirements. This starts with knowing your customer, ensuring there is communication with customers throughout the process, and finally measuring the satisfaction of your customers.

Leadership - Importance of Top Management

Generally the more involved the top levels of management are in the business management system, the better the chance of success, and the more effective the end result. If top management – responsible for controlling the cash flow of the organization – can see the benefit of the system, it is much more likely to be used and to succeed.

Engagement of People

It is important that people throughout the organization create value – To ensure this, the business management system must focus on the competence of people to help them become engaged in the processes to build value and work towards meeting the objectives of the organization.

The Process Approach

By looking at the overall system as smaller interrelated processes you can focus your efforts toward more consistent and predictable results on the individual processes of the system. Looking at the links in the chain can help you understand and control the entire chain!


Companies that stay stagnant will perish, successful ones work toward improvement. Objectives need to be planned and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based), and will not work without a strong commitment to change.

Evidence-based decision making

It is said – and it is true – that you are more likely to get the results you want by basing decisions on analysis and evaluation of hard data rather than an instinctive feel of the situation.

Relationship Management

Because the interaction with interested parties such as customers, employees and suppliers can influence the performance of an organization, it is critical to manage these relationships. Successful companies see these relationships as partnerships rather than strictly customer/supplier interactions.

So if you want your company to be around in a century’s time. You know what to do!