How To Apply For ISO 9001 Certification - 5 Simple Steps

Your company has become stagnant. The employees are not performing as they once did, and you're worried that your customer base is beginning to shrink. You want to find a way to improve the overall quality of the service you provide. But how can you do it?

How do you apply for ISO 9001 certification? You can apply for ISO 9001 certification in five easy steps, including preparation, documentation, implementation, an internal audit, and finally, certification.

ISO 9001 certification is a great way to help support and grow your business through adhering to global quality standards. To learn more about the steps, what the certification process is like and how long the certification process takes continue reading.

How To Gain ISO 9001 Certification

The process for ISO 9001 certification can be daunting. However, breaking it down into more straightforward steps will streamline the process for you.

  • Preparation
  • Documentation
  • Implementation
  • Internal Audit
  • Certifcation

Five simple steps will take you from initial paperwork to officially being certified.

laptop showing steps for ISO 9001 implementation

There are three ways to prepare for ISO certification

They all have their strengths and weakness, though one it proportionally better than the other two. The three approaches are:

  • In-house
  • Hands-on consultant, and
  • Hands-off consultant

In-house

An in-house approach means that your company is going to do the entire certification process by themselves without outside help. Meaning your company does the research, your company implements the proper changes to policy and structure, and your company does the review work.

It is the slowest of the three approaches to take effect, but it is ideal for smaller companies that have a unique inner office culture that wouldn’t respond well to outside influence.

It also has the highest probability of retaining certification after it is received because there is already a checks and balances system in place to make sure that standards are being maintained.

Hands-on consultant

A hands-on consultant is an ISO 9001 certification expert that you hire to come into your company. They are responsible for making sure that your company meets the ISO 9001 certification standards. Once the certification is complete, they leave.

This is the fastest of the three proposed approaches. However, it has the lowest success rate, meaning it is less like for the company to retain its certification after the consultant leaves.

This is because the company had no direct involvement with acquiring the certification, so they are more likely to go lax when it comes to maintaining standards and policies they may not fully understand

A hands-off consultant

A hands-off consultant is a combination of an in-house approach with a hands-on consultant. You again hire an ISO 9001 certification expert. However, they don't implement any of the changes themselves.

Your company's chosen project leader is responsible for making sure that the standards meet certification requirements.

The hands-off consultant is a happy middle ground. While the company's certification project leader doesn't have to learn about all of the ins and outs of the certification process they do have to learn how to maintain the standards, so the company will likely retain their certification after the consultant has finished their job.

Out of these three approaches, I recommend the in-house approach. While it does take the longest time, having the work done within the company by someone who already knows how the company works encourage compliance after the certification process concludes.

The In-house approach

Should you choose to do the in-house approach, I recommend going to the ISO website to learn more about the standards and ISO 9001 certification specific policies.

ISO 9001 certification is a lot simpler than most expect. While they used to require additional documentation, the primary paperwork needed for an application now is the same you would submit in any business proposal.

man writing a document

Documentation, or writing, can be a terrifying part of the application process. To help you with 90% of the documentation, I recommend using a Quality Manual Template.

The Template includes everything you need for ISO 9001 documentation - quality policy, scope, what procedures you're planning to implement, flow charts, objectives, instructions for employees and additional forms that ISO 9001 certification may require.

The most important thing to remember when drafting your application for certification is to write it for your company and its needs and circumstances. You want the writing to be clear and direct, try to be as detailed as possible. When formatting the layout, make it accessible and easy to read.

For the implementation process start with something small and simple. One that is commonly recommended is Document Control.

As an essential part of the communication within the company, you want this to be the first thing learned. Most employees will find that change asked for rather simple since it streamlines the process.

Once one implementation procedure has been in place, proceed to the next, try to keep it one objective at a time. Through getting this certification, you will find that every facet of the company will need to change in some way to improve efficiency.

Try to be patient throughout the process and remember in the long-run your employees and customers will thank you.

Internal audits are crucial yet straightforward elements of the ISO 90001 certification procedure. The internal audits are performed first during the certification process and then periodically after.

You can hire a sub-contractor to perform the audits, but it is encouraged for you to have the audits done in-house.

Internal auditing can also be an excellent way to train your employees in the implementation procedures. Understanding the exact expectations a specific process or system is supposed to conform to the employees will have a more in-depth understanding of the said process.

One other good thing about the internal auditing step of the application process is that it doesn't need to be completed in one go. You can break the internal auditing process into different parts and days depending on departments, if you want to cover a specific implementation procedure first, etc.

The final step is receiving your certification. This is done through selecting your ISO certification auditor. They will come and observe the way your company is functioning and if it is adhering to certification standards. If passed, you will receive your certification.

This can be a stressful time for your company. The best way to relieve this stress is to work with your employees to make sure they are prepared for any question the auditor may ask.

Once ISO 9001 certification is received, make sure you don't fall lax in your responsibilities. An auditor will continue to come once or twice a year. If you drop below standards, your certification will be revoked.

certified stamp

What Is The ISO 9001 Certification Process Like?

Depending on how you choose to approach the process, it can be either easy or difficult.

If you choose not to prepare beforehand when submitting your documentation and don't understand your companies specific requirements and needs for certification, you will likely have to reapply.

The same holds if you don’t properly train your employees during implementation procedures or if you allow your employees to be lax during the training period.

Don't let standards slip

If you don't pay attention after you receive certification and allow standards to fall, then you will lose the certification your company and yourself worked so hard to get.

However, if you choose to take the application process serious, adequately prepare, and view the implementation process as a good learning experience for yourself and your employees, then the certification process should be comfortable and relatively pain-free.

How Long Does It Take To Get ISO 9001 Certified?

If you prepare like you should, doing the necessary reading and paperwork, and have all your employees put forth their best effort during the implementation process, certification should take from three to six months.

How To Ensure Long-Term Success With ISO 9001

  • Learn the standards, don’t just follow them
  • Strive for continuous improvement
  • Prepare to take at least 6 months, do not rush it

I would recommend, when creating your project plan, to aim for six months. While it is easy to be overly eager and want to rush forward the certification, remember learning about the standars, why they are in place, auditing current procedures and implementing new processes is an essential part of gaining ISO 9001. ISO certification should be a long-term goal, not a short-term one.

Written: 25th July 2019
Author: Richard Keen

Richard Keen

Richard Keen

Richard is our Compliance Director, responsible for content & product development.
But most importantly he is ISO's biggest fanboy and a true evangelist of the standards.
Learn more about Richard