I wanted to use my last column of the year to discuss the value of "Thank You." Many start-ups and small businesses survive and thrive via referrals and word of mouth. I'll use a personal example today to show how one business keeps its word-of-mouth pipeline full.

Earlier this year, our home air conditioning system failed during one of the hottest periods of the summer. We called our regular air conditioning and heating service, and they dispatched a technician who could not fix the problem. Seems the fan motor was bad, the unit was old, and they could not remove the fan blade from the motor. It was going to be at least a week to find a new fan and motor part, get someone out there, and get us some relief. And to add insult to injury, it was going to cost north of $600 in addition to the current service charge.

At that point, angry, frustrated and very, very hot, I went searching for an alternative. I contacted the company that makes our air conditioning unit, and they referred me to a web page with authorized local techs. A small independent shop answered my call, and the owner himself came out to fix the problem the next day (incredible in that heatwave). Somehow, he was able to remove the fan from the motor, and he had a spare motor in his truck that was a suitable substitute. In addition to the quick fix he provided, he was courteous, quick, and paid attention to small touches like removing his shoes before coming in from outside where the cooling unit is located. As a bonus, his work cost was about half our regular company's quote. As the air conditioner started to cool our house, we were very satisfied customers.

As a small business columnist, I always like to talk to owners about business and challenges. My technician works in a family-owned business that has a very small staff, and he does most of the repair and contracting work himself. He does little marketing, but told us that a way to thank him was to refer him to other customers - most of his business comes from word of mouth.

Fast forward a week or so later, and I'm commuting to New York on a train, when I see a neighbor. He told me he was having an air conditioning system issue. I referred our new service tech, and my neighbor hired him. A few weeks later the neighbor told me the tech had replaced their entire unit. The cost was in line with what he had expected, work was done professionally, and he was quite happy with the way things turned out.

I might have forgotten this whole incident until this week, when I received a holiday card from the technician with a hand written thank you for the specific referral and a Home Depot gift card encouraging us to keep passing him to other who might need air or heating work done.

Now, I don't need to be bribed to refer someone who does good work, but this showed me how this tech keeps his pipeline full. He uses the power of "Thank You" to keep people thinking about him. There are so many different ways to do this, from gifts to notes, emails, and especially to referring business back to those who sent you work.

I hope you can benefit from this quick lesson in the spirit of the holidays. I also wanted to take a moment to thank you for spending time reading this column, commenting, passing my writing on, connecting with me on Facebook and Twitter, and most of all, working hard on your start-ups. You inspire me every week and keep me working on this column.

I wish you much success in the new year!