By Ronny Lannoo, member of the EESC Diversity Europe Group and of Belgian SME organisation UNIZO

The self-employed are often associated with "making a fast buck" and success. This caricature overshadows the many challenges entrepreneurs face. Self-employment always goes hand in hand with risks, in both the business and the private sphere.

If things go wrong, (hidden) poverty is often not far away. That this situation is often neglected is due in part to the fact that the self-employed are used to solving their own problems wherever they possibly can.

Public knowledge that a business has problems is perceived as bad publicity, something to be ashamed of, and so they either delay or completely avoid seeking appropriate support.

In Belgium, some 12.7% of self-employed people live below the poverty line. The reasons why they get into difficulty include poor management, starting out without a solid business plan, illness and late payers.

But there are also issues that the self-employed are unable to do anything about themselves. The coronavirus crisis is a dramatic example of this, with the European Commission forecasting a wave of bankruptcies as a result.

We need to recognise the problem and make it one we can talk about: less anxiety, more prevention and easier ways to seek help. In particular, business associations should not wait to be approached, but should seek out entrepreneurs in difficulty and give widespread  publicity to what they have to offer them.

Services such as training, upskilling and coaching in business management, early detection of problems via red flags and other measures can prevent many bankruptcies. A number of these measures have been expanded and strengthened during the pandemic, but much work remains to be done to reduce poverty among self-employed people across Europe.