Is ISO 9001 worth it for a 1-man band?

Article from the newsletter; answer applies to any very small business.  

Q: I am a Civil Engineering consultant and provide a range of services to mainly Local Government in traffic engineering, road, drainage design etc. I operate as a sole practitioner, but have strategic links to other sole practitioners who assist me to complete projects. If I have a certified ISO 9001 quality system in place I can be registered with the State authority to provide services to them as well as being listed on their web site as a pre-qualified consultant.

My question is: can a sole practitioner who uses other practitioners (who aren't certified) have a quality system that is acceptable?

A: Yes, of course you can get certified.

The ISO 9001 Standard itself specifically states that it (ie, the 9001 Standard) is intended to be 'applicable to all organizations, regardless of type, size and product' (or service)'. (clause 1.2 - my bolding)

But the biggest question for a one-person or very small company to consider is whether it is worth becoming certified.

There's an obvious cost involved: the cost of certification itself, plus any other costs eg, consulting/buying a kit, work associated with developing your system. That can be a burden for a sole practitioner or any really small business. It's something you have to weigh up to see if the cost-benefit ratio stacks up: that is, whether it's worth it for you and your particular business. And only you can answer that question.

It is not as simple as 'everyone should'. If, for example, it will get you no more work or no more customers, I'd definitely query if it's worth the cost and time.

But if having certification gets you work that you otherwise couldn't get, or stops you losing a large customer that you would otherwise lose, or makes you eligible to apply for tenders that you are currently excluded from, these are reasons that might tip the scales strongly.

An example:  one of my consulting clients was literally a one-man band - he was the only person in it.  His business was a type of specialised import and export: he moved certain materials around the world mostly via email, phone & fax. He achieved certification to ISO 9001.

Was it worth it? In his case, yes.  Because his single largest customer (a multi-national corporation accounting for around 80% of his business) insisted on it. No ISO 9001 = no further business from them.

Another client had only 2 principals in it (plus 2 casual employees, employed only occasionally). But they had also particular reasons to get ISO 9001: it was required by their largest customer and getting it was consistent with their business strategy and plans for growth.

There are a few challenges in designing a system where you're a 'one-man band' , but none are insurmountable.

Regarding the other people or organisations you use, no, they don't have to be certified. This applies in all cases, regardless of size whether you're a 1-person or a 500-person business. They are suppliers to you. While they don't have to be certified (in your example, they presumably subcontract to you), you'd definitely have to show how your quality system selects, monitors & manages them to ensure that your client gets the standard of work they expect and you agreed to supply. But that, like so much of ISO 9001 is just sheer good business sense. If you do decide to go ahead, as always: keep it simple, practical and effective.