Everything is Management. Everything.


Everything is Management: Everything in business, anyway! It doesn’t matter what International Standard you’re looking at – Environment, Safety, or anything else – they all come back to Management. And Management is handled by the gold standard of decision-making, the Quality Framework you get with ISO 9001.

This article explains why ISO 9001 is like the parent of any other standard. And why YOU – as an artist, freelancer, or sole trader – should care about it.

Let’s go.

Why should you care about international standards?

As a freelancer, artist, sole operator, or small business, international standards seem like complete overkill. Especially if you’re in touch with someone who is out of touch: They’ll tell you they’re a whole lot of useless work, like manuals nobody reads and roles that don’t add anything to your organisation. Those people are working off old knowledge (manuals haven’t been necessary since the last update, which was 9001:2015).

International standards are, however, gold standards for business. They are created by groups of appropriately experienced consultants worldwide, edited and overseen by them, and those who work in the field are invited to contribute to the next round of changes.

The standards are also recognised and accepted internationally. This means that if you trade internationally, the systems you create in your business are meaningful to others.

The standards boil down to this:

‘Do it right the first time, every time.’

It doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is. It could be networking, onboarding leads, creating new accounts, handling deadlines, handling risk, handling your insurance, bringing in contractors, creating products, handling queries and phone calls, doing your books…

And that translates to eliminating trial-and-error.

You should care about 9001 in particular, because it’s at the centre of the organisation.

How does this relate to your organisation?

The principles of the ISO 9001 Standard describe how every aspect of your business functions. But it goes beyond mere functioning: It stretches to quality measurement, to improvement, to risks, to people who have a foot in your business when you may not even realise they do.

I’ll show you.

Leadership in your business (which is you if you’re a sole trader, artist, or freelancer) has a customer focus for literally everything that it does. This means that you meet all requirements (statutory, regulatory); that you strive to enhance the happiness of your customers; that everything you do is crafted with one eye on your customer base – from hiring to writing lunch-hour policy.

The ‘system’ is created for the customer, ultimately, because your customer decides what is ‘quality’ service.

Leadership (i.e., you) communicates the importance of quality management conformance (which means, complying with your own quality policy) to anyone involved in the organisation. This maintains the integrity of the system and allows you to continually reinforce and improve it.

In order to do this, you must maintain what I call ‘risk-based thinking’, so that every decision you make is done so within a structured framework of risk and evidence. Sick of selling SEO writing? Want to write memoirs instead? Well, how do you know there is a need for it? What are the social, financial, infrastructure, and management risks? Do you have enough time? How do you prepare the business for a switchover as and when it happens?

Leadership is accountable for the effectiveness of the business; it follows a process approach, and in every step complies with its own quality policy.

Your business is much bigger than you, however. It is exists within a range of what the Standard refers to as ‘contexts’. These are the publics with which it and you interact; your industry; your environments; the institutions with which it engages; its history.

You also have what the Standard refers to as ‘interested parties’. These are all people with whom you have a touchpoint. They are customers, suppliers, financiers, banks, support staff, contractors, subcontractors, regulators, certifiers, professional development bodies, government, staff members, staff members’ families, board members, advisors, coaches, mentors, networking groups, voluntary organisations… These ‘interested parties’ will at some point have an interaction with your business, and their experience must be factored in, too. (They’re ‘publics’, really.)

Now, your quality policy sets the objectives for the quality of your business and its products and services. Those objectives are established by the purpose of your organisation. And together they drive you toward your strategic objectives.

The quality system comes before your strategic objectives. And this is how everything in your business comes back to the quality management system.

The quality system comes before your strategic objectives. This is how everything in your business comes back to your quality management system.

The system itself is built on seven key principles. They are:

  • Customer focus, which is designed to continually increase value to your customers
  • Leadership, which defines strategy and keeps everything moving towards your True North
  • Engagement, which refers to your team (whatever your team looks like): Recognition, empowerment, and increasing/improving skills
  • Process, which is how everything your business happens – from managing the quality management system to the nuts and bolts of what you do everyday.
  • Improvement, because you want to be improving continually.
  • Evidence-based decisions: You use objective results in order to assess what you’re doing, in order that decisions can be made.
  • Relationships, which refer to ‘interested parties’: That you meet their needs and their expectations.

Your organisation exists within a broader context, too. It’s easy to lock yourself in your own cave and ignore it. The Standard forces you to look up.

Your business exists in a context, and that context informs the scope of your 9001 system. This means that everything from production to sale and purchase and reporting fall within the scope of the standard, but so too do all of the external factors. Your industry, history, interested parties, system scope, system itself, culture, environment (etc) create the context within which your business exists.

That context contains

  • legalities, such as regulation, registration, professional development, legislation
  • tech that you use and with which you must comply
  • the market you’re selling into
  • competitors who exist within that market
  • cultural factors of your business, locality, country, region
  • social factors within and outside of your business
  • economic factors locally, nationally, internationally.

And the Standard asks that you monitor them. When you monitor them, you are able to collate meaningful data, and that data allows you to make evidence-based decisions for your business.

Take our example from above. Your gut doesn’t want you to do SEO Writing any more but the market for memoir-writing has dropped 15% in the past 18 months. You don’t know anyone who wants a memoir written. You don’t have enough money to cover shortfall if you run an experiment that fails. Is it a good time to do it? Hell no.

Thinking in terms of 9001 allows you to create a Watcher for everything you do.

All ISO systems created on a system of Plan – Do – Check – Act (or PDCA for short). What this means is that you have a policy (say a quality, environment or safety policy). That policy has key objectives. Then you plan to achieve those objectives: You define what to do, what resources and availability exist to do it, who will do it, when it will be done, and how it will be measured.

Then you action it. And you check it (audit it) against the plan. If you fall short of the objectives, you take the data and decide what needs to be changed. You will document that somewhere, and you will then plan how to implement the change before you take action.

The movement of a sole trader, freelancer, or artist, is very much feel-think-run, which is why such a system feels odd and awkward. It slows you down. It feels sometimes as if you are hampered. But what it’s actually doing is forcing you to be rational, clear, and properly decisive – in ways that will not damage your business.

Let’s take a simple example: A customer order

Imagine that you’re a writer and you are approached to write 5 blog posts for a shoe store. As part of your lead-capture and onboarding, you receive the customer’s requirements (or brief) and you give them product (or service) information.

You have to document that somewhere. Keep a record of what they request, what you discussed, and what your proposal is. That ‘record’ can simply be your notes plus your proposal.

You then feed it all back to the customer to check that the requirements are accurate. Great, you proceed.

If your customer then requires a change, you document that request, and feed it back into the production line. But when the production is complete, you stop and check. Does it meet your business’s requirements for quality? Does it meet the customer’s requirements? If yes, fantastic: Deliver it to the customer. If no, document that and plan how you’ll make the change – and take action.

The word ‘document’ sounds annoying, doesn’t it? Like you have to write a manual? It’s literally as simple as keeping notes.

As a writer, for example, this type of process is immensely beneficial because it allows you to see your own process and improve the process. If you document it, it exists.

Let’s say you’re terrible at time management and you write everything at the last second before deadline. Then the customer comes back to you with changes, which take longer than you expect, and you sigh and berate yourself for simple things that could be avoided. If you had a quality policy that says every item sits for 24 hours, is reviewed, and is checked off against your own quality output policy, then you would find that your customers’ change requests begin to decrease.

That’s what you call customer focus and continuous improvement in action. But unless you are documenting it in your client notes (or in your quality check records), you’ll never know.

Information is power, as they say.

Such a system goes far beyond creation and delivery. It goes into customer feedback and assessment of the process.

Do you keep your customer feedback/emails in a folder somewhere so you can see what people say about your work?

Do you assess your work process?

Do you document everything that falls short, that irritates your customers (and you), that goes wrong? If not, that’s where this all starts because everything – every stage of production and delivery, and post-delivery – is planned and controlled.

And so, if you have (or want) an environmental management system, or safety system, or anything other certifiable system, you don’t need a consultant with that credential.

All you need is someone who has an ISO 9001 credential. Everything in your business – from leadership to environment, from staff management to safety, to product creation and sales, to delivery and feedback, from ideation to marketing – everything falls in the remit of 9001.

If you have an auditor with a 9001 credential, they will be able to understand and audit your entire business. They have the skills and qualifications necessary to assess any system. All they have to do is read through the system, standard, or regulations and understand it.

Many consultants who have specialist skills (such as dangerous goods, mining, or wastewater) never studied those things. They have simply had enough experience in their fields to know what to look for. And that, my friends, is way more powerful than a certification.

If you’re an artist, creating a ‘system’ for the system’s sake is total overkill. But you can still benefit from this stuff!

Thinking in terms of a standard like 9001 pulls you back from the razor’s edge. It gives you the ability to look at, to watch your business and what you do.

If you’re not a detail-thinker when it comes to your work, you can become one. It might be uncomfortable. It might feel like you’re the business person you never wanted to be.

But here’s a heads-up for you:

If you’re an artist, and you want to live as an artist, becoming a business-oriented person is the best thing you can do because it safeguards your time, your money, and your efforts.

When you have a known process, you can improve it.

When you have notes about your objectives, you can ensure your navigation stays true.

When you have any type of customer – an editor, a buyer, a publication, a gallery – you can continually improve their experiences with you, and that goes a long way towards giving you more paid work or more sales.

When you have a process for sales, production and delivery, you know what is and isn’t working, so you can pattern it, repeat it, and scale it up.

This stuff is not rocket science. It’s literally keeping notes and reviewing your notes. And once you’ve got notes about the right things, you’ll improve your project management, your money, your outputs.

And that, my friends, is your system in a nutshell. 🙂

Everything is management. Everything!

Let’s recap. Your business exists in a context: An internal and an external context. Everything within your business (the people, resources, products, services, customer contact, marketing, publishing, sales, finance, safety, legalities, regulations, leadership) is management. And the ISO 9001 Standard is really the most beautiful way of handling that management, because it drives continuous improvement in every aspect of your business – including subsidiary standards like environmental management.

How I can help you

Talk to me about business improvement, coaching, mentoring, and compliance consulting. I am a certified auditor for ISO standards (yep, 9001) and I can help you create compliance to (and audit to) whatever regulation or certification you’re facing, from organic certification to wastewater. You can contact me for a confidential discussion.

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