When used effectively, a business’s data creates a unique competitive advantage. The right BI tool will help unlock insights hidden in the data.

Small businesses have access to many imperfect tools to measure their business performance. Some are free, while others are outrageously expensive. Most are designed for accountants. And very few are intuitive or easy to learn.

This guide was created to help local business owners who want to make more data-driven decisions about their business. It assumes that you — like most people — are not a data scientist and probably hope to never become one. But you know there is value in your performance data that can help your business succeed.

The ideal performance dashboard provides insights into your local business.
Great BI tools provide insights, not data

Business Intelligence (BI) tools are called by different names: dashboards, analytics, reports, etc. We’ll use “BI tool” to keep it simple.

Here are the key attributes of great BI tools…

Simple, but not simplistic

Some BI tools boast about how many data points they show. Instead, find one that focuses on the most important metrics but is not “dumbed down” to the point that it hides the interesting insights.


Lots of numbers can be overwhelming. Well-designed graphs can tell your story very quickly.


You always have your phone with you, so find a BI tool that looks great on a phone. Fifty-column spreadsheets don’t qualify.

Real-time updates

You need to monitor your business closely, whether you’re physically there or not. Real-time updates help you know exactly what’s happening so you can make quick adjustments if needed.

Apples-to-apples comparisons

The BI tool must ensure every comparison is valid, which is surprisingly uncommon in BI tools. For example, a year-over-year comparison should be 364 days, not 365 (or 366) days. Any comparison that doesn’t match the days of the week (e.g., Saturday to Saturday) is inherently flawed.

Details only when you want them

Too much detail can be overwhelming and could cause you to abandon the tool prematurely. Easy drill-downs let you zoom in on the details only when you care about them.


The problem with performance data is that it’s all about the past. Find a BI tool that also offers projections for the future.

Focused on performance, not accounting

There are great dashboards for bookkeeping and taxes, but they’re often very different from BI tools that help optimize business performance. For more details, see How POS Reports Can Lead to Bad Business Decisions.

Low cost or free, but not “Free”

Lots of apps are “Free,” but you end up paying with your time (watching ads) or your confidential data (shared with third parties). If even one decision is improved by this BI tool, it can more than justify a low-cost solution.

Next Steps

Sprk™ was specifically created to fill the void of low-cost, performance-focused BI tools for local businesses that use Square or Clover. But depending on your specific needs, a similar solution may be a perfect fit for you. Regardless, find a BI tool that provides valuable insights and helps manage your business more effectively.

All screenshots are taken from Sprk™ using either fictitious data for illustrative purposes or real data used with permission.