Every once in awhile, I enjoy poring through old tiny-food folders, finding cute photos I’d completely forgotten. Today, I want to walk down memory lane with a Valentine’s Day twist.

But, being the new year and all, I’m also feeling reflective about The Mouse Market as a whole. It’s interesting to see how my business has changed over the past decade-plus since its inception.

So, if you want to peek behind the curtain, interspersed with a time capsule of tiny foods, without further ado…

Queen of Hearts cookies from 2011

I used to work WAY too much

When I first started my business, I was trying to fill the shelves of my brand-new Etsy shop, and I was going to a bunch of craft and miniatures shows (more on those later).

Both required lots and lots and lots of sculpting, figuring out how to take and edit photos, write descriptions, build displays and make signage for my show table, determine the best way to ship stuff, start a mailing list, figure out what to actually say to said list, and so on it went.

Macarons from 2010, less than a year after my biz opened

I didn’t know how to do pretty much everything, so I was reading tons of books on marketing and design, while honing my sculpting skills through hours of practice.

I suppose this initial phase of intense work is par for the course when starting a business, but as sales began to pick up, my lack of time-management skills (and my lack of awareness that I was lacking time-management skills) led to my working until 8 or 9pm, often six days a week.

Pink smorgasbord of sweets (with Mayumi in her awesome dress)

Looking back, I see how completely and utterly nuts this was–and completely and utterly unsustainable.

Out of sheer exhaustion, I began to (begrudgingly) take breaks here and there, gradually scaling back my hours to weekdays only, and I turned off my office lights promptly at 6pm, later bringing it down to 4 or 5pm.

Quite honestly, this saved my business, because I had been on the fast-track to Burnout City. Being forced to figure out how to wall out distractions and actually focus during office hours, so I didn’t have to work 12-hour days just to get things done, was a blessing in disguise.

American Girl cupcakes and cookies (2014)

I hadn’t learned the difference between what worked for me vs. what other people were doing

For the first, I don’t know, five years or so of my business, I signed up for a lot of craft fairs and miniatures shows.

Many were here in Missouri, albeit often a couple hours away, necessitating a hotel, but some were as far as my hometown of Chicago, Knoxville, or Oklahoma City (10 hours and an unexpected overnight stay on the way home when a blizzard hit!).

A fuzzy pic of my second show (Artrageous in Missouri, 2010)

The process of preparing for a show monopolized a month or more of my work time: intense sculpting, making pieces that I couldn’t list in my online shop to ensure I had sufficient show inventory; mocking up my display and tweaking the signage and decor; making travel arrangements; etc.

And then the show itself involved hauling loads of stuff (tent, table, stool, shelves, inventory…), setting up, standing for hours, and tearing down before driving home.

Gateway Miniatures show (2010); notice my husband’s knee–not for sale

But even so, it was FUN!

I loved meeting people, seeing who was going home with which pieces, watching as they decided between a plate of tiny donuts or a pair of pizza earrings. And everyone, regardless of age, would use their “tiny voice” when they realized what I was selling: “Awwww, look at how itty bitty this stuff is!”

It was also creatively satisfying to plan out which foods I’d make, mocking up the display and establishing one area for fruits and veggies, another for tiny desserts, a camping and picnic area, etc.

Indie Revolution show (2011)

After years of doing this, though, I started looking more closely at the numbers (yes, it took me years to do this!) and realized that a “good show” meant breaking even, once all my travel, booth fees, and other expenses were covered. A “great show” could mean $300-500 after expenses, not enough to live on by a long shot when, at most, I could handle doing two shows a month.

Increasingly, I realized that the massive amount of time spent preparing and going to shows was time I could have spent building up my online business, which I needed to do if I truly wanted The Mouse Market to support me full-time.

And so, after years of thinking this was “just the way it was done,” I acknowledged that this wasn’t the way for me, that I wasn’t meeting my goals via this path. I phased out craft shows and turned my attention to my Etsy shop and website.

This is when things finally crossed the threshold of being a profitable hobby that would maybe, hopefully allow me to eventually quit temping to The Mouse Market becoming my full-time job.

Boxes from the ABCs of Dessert series (2012)

Running a business brought up all my personal baggage

I like to joke that having a business is like going to therapy. As someone who does both, the comparison isn’t perfect…but it’s pretty darn close.

If I don’t learn how to kindly set and communicate boundaries, my business will bombard me with more projects and requests than there are hours in a day.

Scrumptious sweets from 2015 (learn to make them)

If I don’t learn how to give myself the time and space to slow down, to process what I’m feeling, and to choose how I want to respond, challenging customer service interactions can quickly go sideways.

If I don’t look at my family patterns around money and guilt, overspending to self-soothe, overworking to “earn” self-worth, using money as a means of control and to ward off rejection, etc., then I simply repeat these dynamics in my business.

Every day is an opportunity (whether I like it or not 😉 ) to look at my stuff and get curious about how it’s showing up in my business.

Some changes I can only see in hindsight

It’s been interesting to look back and see larger, sweeping changes that are easy to miss when I’m in the midst of things.

For instance, I used to make a LOT of dollhouse pieces, much more than I did jewelry, whereas now the balance has completely swapped. In puzzling out why, I realized this shift occurred when I moved from listing only ready-to-ship pieces to including made-to-order items in my shop.

A mouse-sized feast (2010)

Jewelry is much easier for me to make on demand, because there’s a narrower set of supplies I must have on hand to fill orders (basically just clay and a limited number of jewelry findings).

With dollhouse pieces, on the other hand, I often use a variety of miniature dishes and accessories, and it’s more expensive to keep all of those in stock, never knowing if it might be years until a piece is ordered, if ever.

Another change? I used to create more tutorials, something I’ve been trying to ease back into over the last year. What shifted? Well, I went to bodywork school and became a massage therapist and structural integrator, and I had my own practice for a number of years.

Mayumi in her office kitchen (2011)

Looking back at that time, when I was working at my massage office five or six days a week, often until 7pm (there’s that overworking theme again!), I have NO idea how I was also filling orders, because tiny food didn’t slow down at all during those years–it’s a mystery to me. But what’s not a mystery is why I wasn’t able to do tutorials on top of all of that. 😉

I’ve since sold my practice and am quite happy to be focusing on my writing and tiny food exclusively.

And there you have it. Over ten years of tiny-food musings. Whether you’ve been with me since the beginning or this is your very first visit to The Mouse Market–thank you. None of this would be possible without you.

Happy New Year!

Japanese sweets and savories (2011)