In 2007, Melanie Yunk saw her company's sales fall for the first time in the six years since she founded Melanie's Fine Foods Inc., a gourmet marinade and barbeque sauce maker in San Carlos, Calif. The unpleasant surprise triggered by tighter budgets among her customers required considerable planning on how to overcome it in 2008, as well as a personal gut-check to see whether she still had faith in what she was doing. "It definitely is more challenging," Yunk says of the current sales environment.

While many small businesses are experiencing sales shortfalls as customers and businesses tighten their belts, the current economic episode doesn't have to spell doom or even gloom, says Billy Cox, a Flower Mound, Texas, sales coach and author of The All-Star Sales Book (Greenleaf, $19.95). "A lot of people are increasing their sales at this moment," Cox says.

Growing sales during hard times requires persistence above all, something that can be hard to come by when customers are resistant and all the news seems to be bad, according to Cox. "A big part of it comes from not buying into the doom and gloom of naysayers," he says. "There are certain realities, and we have to understand what the realities are. But if we focus on where we want to go, it will change our perspective."

The emotional side of coping with sudden buyer resistance to formerly successful products is no laughing matter. "This is a serious issue with entrepreneurs," says Yunk. "How could I not be attached to what I do? I cook the sauce, I drive to the plant every morning at five and watch every ingredient go into the kettle. Those are my babies."

Despite the difficulty, Cox says you can overcome your fears. Begin by trying to separate real problems from those that seem scary but haven't actually popped up yet -- and may never. This process requires going beyond your own perspective. One good way to do this is by talking to customers to learn whether they are actually cutting back or whether your concerns are baseless. "You need to get out there and find out face to face," Cox says.

Once you know what the problem is, you can take action. Yunk, for instance, kept hearing that shipping costs were an obstacle to many of her customers. So she began using lighter bottles for her Big Acres Marinade and Barbecue Sauces. "Now I can say I'll save you 20 percent on shipping," she says.

Another problem seemed tougher to surmount. Yunk's core market of small gourmet grocers, concerned about their own sales and profits, had begun making smaller product purchases and trimming the number of items they carried. After talking to customers, she couldn't see any way to reverse the trend. So she began targeting bigger chain grocers where business has held up better. "I've been doing really well this year so far by refocusing on larger retailers," she says.

Yunk has also rebranded. New labels on the lighter bottles position Big Acres as an artisan food product, featuring her picture and statement of personal philosophy on the back. To incentivize reluctant buyers, she's offering more discounts and deals. For some situations, she's taking special actions. For instance, retailers in resort areas began having trouble selling her bottled sauces to tourists after new security rules prohibited passengers from carrying liquids on commercial aircraft. For those accounts, she began emphasizing dry seasonings and cooking accessories.

If all this sounds a lot like what businesses do in normal times, that's an accurate assessment. But during unusual economic episodes, those regular business practices take on special importance. "Sometimes in the up times we get spread too thin," Cox says. "When things turn and there are a few challenges, many times you have to go back to what brought you to the game -- the basic fundamentals."

One of those fundamentals is to work hard to get your message in front of as many people as possible. "Understand the power of numbers," Cox stresses. "If you're not getting the results you need on eight sales calls, then you need to start making 10 or 12 sales calls." When you find something that works, he adds, refine your approach and keep doing it.

For Yunk, that seems to be working, at least this far into the current economic chapter. "I'm very encouraged," she says. And she credits much of her staying power to refusing to listen to all the bad economic news. "If I bought into all of it," she says, "I would have closed my doors by now."