Power BI Tutorial: Start Learning Power BI Today (For Free)

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

Power BI is a great business intelligence and analytics solution.

Though packed with lots of functionality, it’s still fairly easy to use.

However, not everyone has a knack for technology.

That’s why we created this beginner’s guide to help you get started with Power BI.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Let’s go!

*This tutorial is for Power BI Online (also called "Power BI Service").

Introduction to Power BI

What exactly is Power BI?

Here’s how Microsoft describes its product:

“…a business analytics solution that lets you visualize your data and share insights across your organization, or embed them in your app or website.”

You can say that Power BI is the perfect BI tool for users without much technical knowledge.

However, a lot of people mistake Power BI as a simple tool. 

To put it simply, Power BI is like an umbrella of BI tools. The main products are:

  • Power BI Service: The Online Version (Freemium; requires a work email address)
  • Power BI Desktop: The On-Premise Software (Absolutely free to use)
  • Power BI Mobile: For smartphones, tabs, and other mobile devices (Free to download)

Power BI Service and Power BI Desktop may look similar. But there are other features and functions that are only specific to either of them like:

  • Creating dashboards
  • Data modeling
  • Sharing reports and dashboards
  • And others

Also, the license you get with Power BI’s pricing restricts some of the features you can use.

Power BI: Create data dashboards and visualizations in minutes

For example, free users can use the online version by using a work email address. However, that user can’t share any reports or dashboards with others.

Needless to say, most first-time users experience Power BI’s desktop version since it’s free to download and use.

Some of the features mentioned in this article can only be done with a certain version. But don’t worry, we’ll let you know what version you have to use.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Connect Your Data

Before you can get anything done with Power BI, you first have to connect your data with it.

Unlike in Excel, it’s hard to author your data from scratch with Power BI. As a BI tool, Power BI isn’t designed to function as a regular spreadsheet.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Fortunately, it’s super easy to connect a data source with Power BI both in online and desktop versions.

On Power BI Service, all you have to do is click the ‘Get data’ (or its icon) on the lower-left corner:

Power BI will then show you how you can discover/connect/create new content:

There are different ways to get data using Power BI Service

The same with the desktop version:

Just click the ‘Get data’ icon on the ribbon and select from the options:

How to connect your data in Power BI Desktop

As you’ve noticed from the images above, Power BI has free data samples you can use.

These data samples are complete with datasets, dashboards, and reports. They are there to help demonstrate the functionalities in Power BI.

Question: What if the data source or app you want to connect with Power BI isn’t listed?

Connectors make it possible for Power BI to connect with certain services and apps like data sources.

However, some vendors distribute their connectors exclusively. In this case, you might need to contact your service/app provider.

Shaping Your Data

After connecting your data, you could also make changes to it within Power BI.

It would be impractical and inconvenient if every time you have to make small changes, you would need to visit your data source or spreadsheet and make the changes.

One of Power BI’s main components is Power Query which allows users to transform and combine data.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

There is a so-called “Power Query Editor” accessible within Power BI.

The Power Query Editor in Power BI Desktop

Take note that Power Query Editor is only available in Power BI Desktop.

To access it, all you have to do is click the ‘Edit Queries’ button on the ribbon.

Access Power Query Editor by clicking the ‘Edit Queries’ button on the ribbon

In addition, you could also model your data within Power BI Desktop however you like.

Data view of the store table

To do so, go to the data view and you’ll find various tools

The data view icon on the left pane of Power BI Desktop

In here, you can also add other elements like:

Building Power BI Reports

Once your data is nice and ready, it’s time to create visualizations out of them.

Both Power BI Desktop and Power BI Service have report builders where you can create visualizations taken from the data set.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

A single Power BI report could be a single visual or pages of visuals.

To create a report in Power BI Service, simply go to the data set and you’ll automatically be brought to that data set’s report builder.

In Power BI Desktop, it’s even simpler. Just go the report view and you’ll automatically be on the report editor.

To create a visual, you can either click the visual icon first then the data field. Or, select the data fields first and change its default visual.

Either works.

How to create a visual report in Power BI

Then, you can modify your report in any way you like.

If you like to standardize your reports, you could use Power BI templates. These templates are based on existing Power BI reports which you could import.

The best thing about it is that there are lots of free Power BI templates you can download and use.

Creating a Power BI Dashboard

Power BI also has another feature not found on others: dashboards.

A dashboard is a single-page canvas that contains “pinned” visualizations.

The visualizations could come from different report pages.

The importance of dashboards is to enable the user or content consumer to digest information at a glance.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

You could say that a Power BI dashboard is the most effective way to tell a story using Power BI.

To pin a visual on a dashboard, all you have to do is visit the report which has the visual.

Then, hover your mouse over the visual and click the pin icon.

A pin icon found on a visual on a report


Sharing Your Work With Others

After you create your own reports and pinning them to your dashboard, the next logical step is sharing your work with others.

There are different ways you can share your work in Power BI:

However, know that you can only share Power BI work using Power BI Service. You can’t share anything using the desktop version.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

However, know that you can only share Power BI work using Power BI Service. You can’t share anything using the desktop version.

Also, to share and view content, you have to be a Pro user. The only exception to this is the ‘Publish to the web’ option.

In Power BI, you notice a lot of ‘Share’ buttons like this:

Sharing a report while on reading view

All you have to do is click the button and you’re on your way.

Enjoy Power BI

Power BI is designed to be relatable. You don’t need technical expertise or programming skills to use this BI tool.

However, this guide is not enough to make you a Power BI superuser. Click below and see how I can help you out with that 👍

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto