From the August 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

Virtual trade shows, expos and conventions are coming into their own. While event producers all insist that virtual shows won't replace real-world shows, there are some decided advantages to attending, hosting or exhibiting at online events. Entrepreneurs save on the costs of travel, booth materials and employees' lost productivity.

Robin Cowie, president of WorldwideBrands.com, a Maitland, Florida, wholesale and drop-ship resources provider, went from attending virtual B2B e-commerce trade show eComXpo to hosting a booth at the show. "We treat it like a normal convention," says Cowie, 35, whose company reached more than $3 million in sales last year. "We have three staff members dedicated to it. They're constantly chatting and exchanging information during the show, and I don't have to pay for travel."

Virtual trade shows have a lot in common with their physical counterparts. There are exhibit halls, educational seminars, booths manned by live staff and networking lounges. Events run the gamut from business trade shows, consumer-oriented trade shows, job fairs and corporate training to events that are open for up to a year. "We've built mechanisms to do very complex reporting and analytics for lead qualification ranking," says Brent Arslaner, vice president of marketing at Unisfair, a virtual event solutions firm.

The cost savings and ease-of-use are compelling arguments for virtual events and for virtual online components to physical events. "Physical events are becoming much more tightly coupled with virtual events," says Arslaner. Already, these virtual trade shows and conventions are morphing into business communities--entrepreneurs are using them for ongoing networking and education.

Malcolm Lotzof, CEO of virtual event producer InXpo, says, "Online events are getting more cost-effective, faster and easier. It's just a force of nature."