Like many entrepreneurs, Tom Pincince likes to win. And the CEO of Brix Networks, a Chelmsford, Mass., telecom services firm, is not shy about letting the world know when he has. Just take a look at his company's reception area. There on a wall, displayed in two neat diagonal rows, are the plaques, certificates, and notices marking the numerous small-business awards Brix Networks has carried away since it was founded in 1999.

Among Pincince's accolades: three consecutive Product of the Year awards from Communications Solutions magazine; a nod as a Private Company to Watch in 2001 from CIBC World Markets; and a spot on the Boston Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list in 2002. "It's a reflection of my work and the whole company," Pincince says. "It just gives you a lot of credibility."

There are hundreds of small-business contests out there, everything from competitions sponsored by local chambers of commerce to high-profile national events like this magazine's own Inc. 500 and the fabled Malcolm Baldrige Award--bestowed by the President himself. Entering can be as easy as filling out an online form or as unwieldy as assembling notarized financial statements and years of tax returns. But in either case, a victory can work wonders--making your product look superior, your website more impressive, putting smiles on the faces of your employees, and offering great bragging material.

"Awards are a reflection of my work and the whole company. They give you a lot of credibility."

When the tech downturn forced deep cuts in Brix Networks' marketing budget, the company began looking for inexpensive ways to build buzz. Enter the awards. The company competes in dozens of contests a year, and has won, or reached the finals in, nearly 20 in the three years since its service has been available. Most recently, Pincince was named a finalist for Ernst & Young's 2003 New England Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

A win almost always results in an article in the trade press, which is then posted on the company's website. Press releases are sent to industry analysts. If an award specifically honors the CEO, his hometown paper is alerted. The third-party validation makes a big difference when calling on clients, says Darlene Ducharme, the company's director of channel sales. "It's an ice breaker," she says. "If an industry magazine says our product is the best, it compensates for the fact that we're a small company and haven't been around for that long." That's a lot of bang, considering that Brix Networks has an annual awards budget of less than $1,000.

Indeed, most business competitions have no entry fee, though there are a handful that cost more than $200. While you can't expect to win them all, small companies tend to do much better than they expect. In Hispanic Business magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year contest, for example, smaller businesses actually have an edge, because they typically show better growth and margins than their larger counterparts, says director of research Juan Solana. Just look at Brix Networks. It started bringing home the gold months after its first product appeared. Says Pincince: "There's nothing like the satisfaction of recognition."