Still think that standards are stuffy?

Still think that standards are stuffy?Some small business owners that we speak to think standards are only for large corporations or businesses in highly technical or industrial sectors. Others see them as stuffy, or existing simply to help satisfy regulatory requirements. This could not be further from the truth, given that every year standards empower thousands of small businesses to grow and innovate.

When stripped back to its fundamentals, a standard is simply an agreed way of doing  something. Perhaps making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials – standards cover a huge range of activities. They also contain the distilled knowledge of experts across the globe, so when it comes to helping small businesses innovate, standards can both accelerate and de-risk the process.

Standards can also open doors to international trade for SMEs. They act as a common language across borders and inspire confidence in your business – helping you compete with large arrivals. For example, creating a new product or service for a particular region or geographical market is significantly easier when you use the right standards. They will enable you to define an appropriate market entry strategy, as well as understand potential challenges.

So, how exactly can small business owners use standards to boost innovation? One of the most significant ways is by helping to create an environment which supports creativity and engagement. While it’s true that innovation can, and does, spontaneously occur as the result of other activities – it’s not an ideal strategy to simply wait for it to happen.

Standards help small business owners to introduce a structure under which innovation can flourish. One of the most fundamental is the quality of your company’s operations. ISO 9001 is the world’s most recognized quality management standard. A wide-ranging and powerful business optimization tool, it helps SMEs benchmark quality levels to actually recognize and measure when, how and why creativity is having an impact.

Another big factor when it comes to innovation is your staff and their working environment. Unhappy staff are less likely to be engaged and creative, but due to limited resource wellbeing can be overlooked as a key business objective in
smaller companies.

ISO 45001 addresses occupational health and safety, enabling organizations to build an optimal working environment to protect staff with a simple, risk-based approach that is easy for SMEs to adopt. Meanwhile ISO 45003, currently under development, will focus on psychological health in the workplace – another crucial area for SMEs to address.

In addition to keeping teams happy and engaged, it’s important to protect any data and information they create as a result of their creative research or innovations. Your team can become your greatest cybersecurity asset if employees are properly supported with the right guidelines and structures. There are several helpful standards designed to build resilience in this area. An ideal starting point is the ISO/IEC 27000 series which focuses on information security management, empowering small businesses to  compete successfully in today's globalized market.

Another way to unlock innovation is by looking for partners with which to build mutually beneficial research and development connections. One of the biggest barriers to success in this respect is the quality of the  working relationship. ISO 44001 addresses collaborative business relationships and can be used by SMEs to optimize interactions at all levels for innovation partnerships. Closely related to this are supply chain relationships. Small business owners can use ISO 28000 to secure their supply chain arrangements and prepare them for future innovation.

Beyond these key practical elements, there are other areas in which standards can contribute towards SME innovation – especially those which relate to the customer’s overall brand experience. It is here that a company can communicate innovations which encompass ethical, socially responsible (ISO 26000) and environmentally
sustainable (ISO 14001) elements of its business. In smaller businesses these areas, and CSR activities in general, are also likely to have a significant impact on staff morale, again leading to improved creativity and productivity levels.

Today, many small businesses have recognized that opportunities for innovation also exist beyond their main products and services. With their natural agility and speed of movement SMEs can often have an advantage over larger corporates.

This is especially when it comes to implementing new ideas and use standards to safely accelerate the process. When it comes to truly embedding innovation into company culture, small businesses gain from treating it like any other core process. Standards help SME owners define the areas of innovation required, as well as the best ways to measure and implement them for long term benefits. Protect data and information around innovation and research with standards designed to build  organizational resilience. An ideal starting point is the ISO/IEC 27000 series which focuses on information security management.


  • International standards help set small businesses up for structured innovation. ISO 9001 helps benchmark quality levels and recognize and measure when, how and why creativity is having an impact.
  • Your staff are your innovators, so it pays to keep them happy, safe and engaged. ISO45001 helps you build an optimal working environment to protect staff from a health and safety perspective, while ISO 45003,currently under development, will focus on psychological health.
  • Protect data and information around innovation and research with standards designed to build organizational resilience. An ideal starting point is the ISO/IEC 27000series which focuses on information security management. 
  • Build mutually-beneficial research and development collaborations with ISO 44001 and secure supply chain arrangements for future innovations with ISO 28000. 
  • Small businesses can also communicate the innovations which encompass ethical, socially responsible (ISO 26000) and environmentally sustainable (ISO 14001) elements of its operations.