What Is ISO Certification and Why Does It Matter for Businesses?

You may have heard the term ISO before. Perhaps you see a business displaying their certificates proudly on the wall. Or you may glimpse an “ISO 9001” sticker in your car.

ISO is important for operating a successful business and customer satisfaction.  

But, what if you are new to starting a business? How do you gain ISO certification?

Learning about ISO certification may seem overwhelming at first. However, it is quite simple. This guide will explain everything you need to know about it. In addition, you will learn why it’s important for starting a business. 

First, let’s take a minute to understand what ISO means.  

What Is ISO? 

ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization. You might be thinking, “Shouldn’t it be IOS, then?” Here’s what ISO says about the origin of its name

“‘Because ‘International Organization for Standardization’ would have different acronyms in different languages, our founders decided to give it the short form ISO. ISO is derived from the Greek ‘isos’, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, we are always ISO.”

Considering ISO certification is all about creating a level of standardization among its members. As such, this name makes a lot of sense. 

ISO was formed in 1946 after World War II. As Europe rebuilt, a group of civil engineers gathered to create a framework that would provide consistent quality and improvement for the engineering of new cities. ISO certification became the gold standard for businesses of the future.

Fast forward to today. ISO has expanded beyond its civil engineering roots to cover many areas. Some of these include manufacturing, healthcare, technology, food, health and safety, and agriculture. As a result, there are over 30,000 different standards total. 

You likely benefit from ISO daily. Ever use your credit card in a different country with no problem? Perhaps you noticed the dashboard symbols in your French rental car were the same as yours back home? What about not having to worry about sharp edges on baby toys?

Whatever it may be, ISO makes sure products and services are up to the standards required to be certified. 

Why Is ISO important? 

In the 21st century, safety and quality are paramount. Customer expectations are high. 

Following ISO procedures creates a satisfying and rewarding experience for businesses and customers. ISO standards get rid of many of the issues and obstacles affecting companies without certification. 

Would you be happy spending your money on a new kitchen appliance if it didn’t meet ISO standards? What if it is unsafe or at risk of breaking down? Similarly, would you sell kitchen appliances that were not ISO certified and had the potential to fail? No? Neither would we! 

When businesses gain ISO certification, customers have peace of mind that the products and services they use are high quality, safe, and won’t let them down. If you’ve got a trusty old kitchen appliance that’s survived for years without fail, there’s a good chance it’s ISO certified. 

ISO Key Areas

Today, there are several key areas that ISO standards encompass. These include the following:

  • Safety
  • Quality
  • Ecology
  • Reliability 
  • Compatibility
  • Operability
  • Efficiency
  • Economy

In today’s markets, businesses tend to favor the popular ISO 9000 family. The most common certification from this group is ISO 9001.

ISO 9001 is great for new businesses. Its core principles include a strong customer focus, the motivation and application of management teams, and continual improvements of process. 

As a result, customers are left with consistent and high-quality services or products. In turn, your business will see positive increases all around. Whether it’s your online conversion rate, customer retention, or new leads, being ISO certified brings rewards. 

But how does your journey to ISO certification begin? Let’s find out. 

How Do I Become ISO Certified? 

Becoming ISO certified may seem daunting. You may have no idea where to start and want to ask a million questions. But luckily, many businesses already have the processes and systems for certification in place. 

Putting it simply, ISO certification is not a rigid, prescriptive system. It’s more of a method for assessing whether your existing processes are meeting the required standard. 

Luckily, these steps will set you on the path to gaining that elusive certificate. 

Assemble Your Teams 

If you’re going to reach these high standards, you need a team that’s up to the job. Generally, a quality manager should take the lead when it comes to the ISO process. In the absence of one, choose someone of a senior rank to represent your business. Setting high standards is about starting at the top. 

Your representative should get to know ISO 9001 inside and out and use it to make suitable changes. It’s good to have a team of vice-representatives to share and discuss issues with, but remember they’ll also need suitable training. Knowledge is key, so only give positions to people who are capable. 

Have a Solid Plan

Your team should make a plan. This ensures your transition to ISO certification goes well. You have a good team, so a good plan should see you reap the rewards. 

Schedule meetings with your team to ensure daily tasks are carried out and issues are resolved. Use an online calendar to set key dates for meetings and keep the lines of communication clear and open. 

Using gap analysis or process mapping tools is a great way to assess how your plan looks compared to ISO standards. This lets you see what you’re doing well and what you need to improve. With this knowledge, you can inform team members and focus on areas that need attention. 

Put Your Existing Systems to Use

ISO 9001’s criteria map out how to systemize your business with a quality management system (QMS). A good QMS ensures business tasks, products, and services are operating at their best. This is good news!

Many businesses already have quality systems in operation. Start documenting them correctly. This allows you to track quality issues and make continual improvements. By fine-tuning your QMS to ISO standards, you’ll be on the track to reaping the rewards. 

Start Implementing Your New System and Prepare Documents

At this stage, you will be close to achieving ISO certification. However, navigating a process transformation requires time and patience.

As you start to implement your new quality system, you should see improvements all around. Bear in mind the changes are likely to affect the roles your employees have in the business. Make them aware of the quality process from the start. This will keep them in the loop and on board with the project. 

Hold regular meetings and reviews during implementation. You may find out how efficiently your quality management system is working and how it could be improved. You’ll need to begin creating the documentation required for ISO 9001. Getting the right documents may seem tedious. However, with properly written instructions on your processes, employees will have help available. 

If it’s taking too long to create documentation, you can find templates online suitable for ISO 9001. These can speed up the process and be used as a guide. 

Arrange an Audit

Now you’re implementing the correct procedures, it’s time to arrange an audit. Someone independent will come to your business to conduct an assessment. This person is known as the registrar. Make sure you pick a registrar from an approved certification body. 

During the visit, the registrar will rigorously scrutinize your system to ensure you’re meeting ISO standards. Make sure employees are informed about the visit and know what to expect. This will also help the registrar feel at ease. 

Once the audit is complete, you’ll be informed of the decision. Even if a small number of minor issues are found, it’s still possible to be granted ISO certification as long as these are suitably resolved. It’s usual to receive follow-up visits from ISO certification bodies to ensure you’re operating as you should be. 

What’s Next?

Being a member of the ISO club is special. Once you have passed the audit, you can begin reaping the benefits it brings. These include:

  • A buyer guarantee. Being ISO certified shows buyers you’re trustworthy and reliable. 
  • Better trade opportunities. All businesses you work with will recognize your credentials. These businesses, and potential new clients, will favor you over weaker competition.  
  • An efficient system running your business. With a solid QMS in place, you can rest assured your business is operating at its full potential. A good system will solve issues quickly and learn from them too. It will also improve financial management. 
  • An improved economy. ISO improves business relationships and trade opportunities. Along with this, higher standards mean things can get to market quicker and boost the economy. 

There are over a million companies that are currently benefiting from having ISO 9001 certification. Stop worrying about how difficult gaining ISO certification might be. Use this guide to begin your journey from business startup to international giant today. 

Alister Esam is the CEO and Founder of Process Bliss, a work management software and business process services that are reinventing how businesses execute day-to-day tasks. He is an expert in strategic planning, business process management, and business process optimization. With more than 15 years of experience in helping businesses run at peak efficiency, Alister has dedicated his career to make work easier and more motivating for managers and employees alike. Here is his LinkedIn.