Hey, you. Yes, you, the attractive one over there. It’s your friendly, not-creepy-at-all Uncle Chris. We have to talk about something.

It seems you may have unrealistic expectations on what ISO 9001 implementation costs, and it’s really becoming a problem. Because I love you, in a not-creepy-at-all uncle kind of way, I thought I’d be the guy to tell you. No one else has the guts, and I think it’s time for a tough love intervention.

Recently I saw a post on Freelancer.com where a company was looking to hire an ISO 9001 specialist for full implementation, from gap analysis through to attending the certification audit, and they indicated the maximum cost they could afford was $5000. And he wanted it all in two months, to boot.

You can’t have full on-site ISO 9001 implementation for $5000, people. Maybe in the Third World, where consultants are paid in scraps of food and less public whippings if they succeed, but not in the USA or Canada or the UK. That’s impossible.

In recent weeks, I have had companies literally tell me they weren’t willing to spend $500 for their QMS, and others willing to go as high as $10,000, but that had to include the registrar fee. Riiightt….

Hey, you can always buy a fake ISO 9001 certificate, and then enjoy the pleasure of having your customer disqualify you, and lose the business entirely. That’s an option!

Pull Up A Chair, Kid

I get it. And maybe your not-creepy-at-all Uncle Chris is to blame for some of this. By offering free ISO 9001 and AS9100 template kits, I contributed to a new lowering of expectations. The Oxebridge kits went viral, spreading this myth further. More and more companies now assume they can have the ISO consulting for free, and only pay the registrar for the certification audit.  That’s not how it works, of course. Yes, you can use my free kit, but your QMS is going to suck; it’s only free because I’m trying to stop you from paying $500  to $5,000 for some other clown’s kit only to find out later that it sucks even worse than mine.

I was hoping you’d get your template urges out of your system. But that doesn’t mean I have universally lowered the price of on-site ISO implementation to near-zero for everyone on the planet. And because I’m an amazing human being (I am) who gave you a totally free template kit (I did) because I’m not one of those assholes who sells them (I’m not), that doesn’t mean if you want to hire me I will also work for free (I won’t.) My wife would kill me, and I don’t want to die.

And listen, my little pumpkin, this makes you look bad.  If you open up the conversation with a consultant saying you expect ISO 9001 implementation to only cost a few thousand dollars or, worse, a few hundred… you’ve just outed your company as not being ready for ISO 9001 at all. You need to stop right now, and have a very different internal conversation. These outlandish requests telegraph that you don’t care enough about your quality system to even put the slightest investment into it. It means the quality of your products is likely suspect, because a clever consultant will know that you’re likely cutting corners on the shop floor, too.

Maybe you’re angry hearing this right now. Maybe you’re shouting, “The quality of our products is fine, you ignorant turdbucket! Our customers love us!!” To which I ask, “then why are your customers flowing down a requirement for QMS certification?” Take a deep breath and try to answer that question. If you were as amazing as you think you are, they’d be writing waivers like mad, and allowing you to operate without certification. So why aren’t they?

Now let’s reverse the story. Are you thrilled every time Boeing or NASA or someone stamps their foot and demands you lower your price to the point at which you’re not even making money any more? Are you beside yourself every time your customer expects you to sell product at the cost of your raw materials? Don’t you get furious wondering why your customer doesn’t realize you have rent to pay, materials to buy, electricity to pay for, and all that is before you charge for your labor.

So you can’t really expect consultants to work for you at a loss, or for free. We have families and electricity bills and materials, too, you know.

Barrel Scraping Is Never Advised

You’ve also doomed your QMS before it even starts. Searching for wholly unrealistic pricing means good consultants won’t work with you no matter what. You’re already crippled your QMS by ensuring it will be created by the worst of the worst. Consultants are already a terrible gang of thugs, and you’re going to attract the lowest of those guys. When they show up with broken noses and Bronx accents and don’t know how to type and can’t dress themselves and try to sell you on ways to fast-track your audit by bribing their buddy at the certification body, well, you get what you pay for.

Or, worse, you will get suckered by a low-ball consultant who jacks up the price after his work has already begun. The consultant already knows you’re too cheap to pay money for a QMS, so he also knows you don’t have the budget to sue him if he gets a little sneaky with his contract. You’re screwed.

I get it… your customers are forcing you into ISO 9001 or AS9100 and you’d rather be making product. You didn’t ask to have this thrust upon you, and it’s not what you got into business for. You’re looking to save money, and certainly you shouldn’t invite yourself to be ripped off in the process. I was in your position. Before I started Oxebridge, I was the guy who had to select consultants and registrars while creating a QMS and doing my day job at the same time. It’s not easy.

But it means you have a choice. You will either have to pony up the dough to pay for a proper implementation, or you can negotiate with your customers to get a waiver on their QMS requirements. You must do one or the other.

Again, I’m sorry I had to break this to you. If  you need it, there’s a box of Kleenex on the table. Go ahead and sniff a little, or full-on bawl for a while. Scream into that pillow. I’m here to help you through these emotions. Let it out.

Feeling better? So let’s talk real costs, then.

The Real Cost of ISO 9001 Implementation

What’s a proper implementation cost? It’s tricky, but there are some baselines. Assuming you mean a full on-site implementation, which should take about 2-3 months, you’re looking at just under $20K before expenses. The expenses will be where the consultants get you, which is why Oxebridge provides flat fee, expenses-include “Big Bold Print” pricing. If the consultant won’t quote accurate expenses, … run.

If you want AS9100, you can usually expect to pay more. Oxebridge is an odd duck here, in that we’ve done so many AS9100 implementations we can do them at the same price as ISO 9001. But don’t let that fool you, either; nearly every other consultant will have to charge you a little more for AS9100.

Of course there are variations. Some consultants will use a template kit — hopefully not stolen from Oxebridge — to reduce their price, but you’ll be getting junk documents, sometimes with the names of other companies still in them. Or they may rope you into a cloud-based subscription, so their initial consulting fee is low, but pays out over the many decades you will be tied into their system. Don’t like them? Try getting out of that deal. You’ll lose your entire QMS, and have to spend thousands of dollars to port your data into a new system, assuming you can even get your old data from the first consultant. Not fun.

A more realistic figure? Put $30K in your head (which would include expenses), and you’re in the ballpark. Larger companies (500+ employees) will pay a lot more, smaller companies (<10 employees) will pay a lot less. Most will pay around $28K, so you’ll be nicely surprised when the costs come in under $30K. But you get the idea.

The basement, I’ve found, for a company of even just one employee is about $16K. It simply can’t get any lower, because no matter what, there’s still a minimum amount of work to do. There’s no being “a little pregnant.”

For your registrar fees, if you take the consultant’s fee and divide by three, you get a rough idea of what they will charge. Adding the consulting fees + the registrar fees gives you your final QMS investment costs.

Oh, and right now some idiot consultant is writing an email to you telling you that Oxebridge is nuts, and they can do a great implementation for only $5K, including all expenses. When you get that, look outside to make sure your car hasn’t been stolen and your wallet is still where you left it, because some shady people are circling.

You Can Only Have Two.

This Is An Investment, Not A Shakedown

You have to think of this as an investment. Sure, your customer is demanding it, but you have to spend that money to keep the customer. Run the numbers. Calculate how much you will lose when the customer tires of your foot-dragging, and just sends the next PO to your competitor, who already has ISO certification. Compare that to the $30K figure I’m suggesting.

Then make sure you spend the money on a QMS that generates results and benefits. This means identification of areas where improvements can be made, specifically those that save money. If your QMS flags areas you are leaking money, then you just reduced the overall cost. That $30K investment can disappear, and you could end up profiting afterward.

And trust your Uncle, now… your company is totally leaking money. All of them are. The smart ones find the leaks and plug them. Then they become the competitors that steal your business.

So, again, I love you and in an entirely-not-creepy-at-all way. I want to see you succeed.

But for your own mental health — and mine — stop expecting the impossible. Do your proper research. Tailor your expectations. Know what you’re getting into. Maybe research grants to see if they can help offset things a little. And if you absolutely cannot afford the investment to pursue ISO 9001 or AS9100, negotiate with your customer. Many times they may grant you a waiver. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Otherwise, when it’s time to bite the bullet, know what you will have to spend, and ensure it results in a QMS that eventually earns you money, so the cost is repaid back in time.


About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


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