According to the latest NFIB small business hiring data, 29 percent of small businesses currently have job openings they can't fill--a sign that owners are optimistic about the future and are working to meet increased demand in the marketplace.

But don't be fooled by the positive small business outlook. Even in the best of economies, small business owners are sometimes forced to exit their companies quickly. If this happens, it's critical to know how to achieve your goals in a fast sale scenario.

The Time to Sell is Declining (Though Not Fast Enough)

BizBuySell.com data shows that the median time to sell a business dropped 23 percent from its peak of 200 days in Q2 2012 to just 153 days in Q4 2014--the lowest sale time since BizBuySell began tracking this data in 2007.

But even five months can be too long for owners dealing with a change in personal circumstances, a sudden turn of events in the marketplace or a new business opportunity that requires immediate action.

Strategies for a Quick Business Exit

Typically, a small business owner will start to prepare for a sale months or even years before the desired exit date. Since time isn't on your side in a fast exit scenario, you may need to consider other strategies to successfully transition out of your business.

1. Reach out to likely buyers. As an established business owner, you may already know several individuals or companies that are likely interested in acquiring your business for either financial or strategic reasons. Instead of waiting for them to come to you, be proactive and reach out to targeted buyers to gauge their interest.

Although outreach to potential buyers can reduce the sale time, it also creates risks--especially if it lets competitors gain inside knowledge about your sale. To play it safe, it's best to work with an intermediary who is experienced in communicating with interested buyers while protecting confidentiality.

2. Add a business partner. You may not have to sell your business to make a fast exit, especially if you're just looking for a way to remove yourself from day-to-day operations in order to focus on other personal or professional activities.

If the business is profitable and growing, think about bringing on a partner with a complementary skill set and willingness to manage the aspects of the business that you no longer want to oversee. If you go this route, make sure your partnership agreement clearly defines what will happen when you (or your partner) decide to completely exit the company.

3. Sell to your employees. For some small business owners, the most satisfying way to exit the business is to sell it to their employees. If the business is financially stable and has low employee turnover, employee ownership can be a way to reward loyal workers and ensure that the business will thrive going forward.

Although there are several ways to execute a sale to employees, many business owners elect to create an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). ESOPs offer important tax benefits and provide flexibility when it comes to the owner's continued involvement with the business. Consult your attorney and/or accountant to determine whether or not an ESOP is the right vehicle for your situation.

4. Offer incentives. Incentives are an obvious option for owners who need to exit their companies quickly. The more attractive you make your company for qualified buyers, the less time it will take to make a deal in the business-for-sale marketplace.

Many business owners shorten the sale process by lowering their asking price, but this isn't your only option. Seller financing, including additional assets (e.g., equipment) in the sale, training, and other incentives can also entice prospective buyers to acquire your business.

5. Liquidate your assets. Liquidation is usually a last resort for small business sellers. But if the company isn't profitable or if you have to leave your business as quickly as possible, liquidating your assets may be the most viable exit strategy.

With liquidation, you won't receive anything for intangible assets like customer relationships and brand recognition. Also, it's much easier to sell equipment and real estate than it is to sell retail inventory. If you are heavily invested in inventory, a "Going Out of Business" or liquidation sale is probably the most efficient way to turn merchandise into cash.

While you can't entirely remove the possibility of a fast exit due to a change in personal circumstances (illness, death, divorce, market changes, other opportunities, etc.), you can develop a comprehensive exit plan which considers both measured and immediate departures. If you plan for the unplanned ahead of time, you will be in better shape.

Published on: Jun 11, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.