A content calendar is a powerful thing. It keeps you accountable, takes away uncertainty about what you are doing and is a good way of keeping a team singing from the same hymn sheet.

Used effectively, a content calendar is the foundation of a content marketing or thought leadership strategy. With more and more firms recognising thought leadership as essential - getting your foundation right is the obvious place to start.

But a lot of the time, that carefully crafted calendar falls behind or becomes completely forgotten. In the worst case, it leads to content for content's sake where your thought leadership isn't useful for your clients and becomes a chore rather than the powerful tool it can be.

Here are three tips from myself and Freddy Dobinson on how to make your calendar easier to follow, more effective and easier to create. 

1. Don't make an exhaustive calendar

It's tempting to plan out every piece of content in detail. Every blog and article down to the last detail could be assigned an author and a time. As an approach, this can be too rigid and leads to deadline slip and eventually a calendar that is a bit out of sync with reality.

Instead, consider plotting in just your key marketing activities - almost mapping your calendar to your budget. Events, trade shows, sponsorships, and key campaigns in the calendar. Your content then becomes a supporting function to help get the most out of those events.

If you are spending big on a marketing activity - you definitely want to use content to get the word out both internally and externally. It's a commitment you can ask of your event team. When they attend the conference, they write content.

2. Outline content goals rather than themes or topics

Traditionally, a calendar often includes a message, theme or topic assigned to a content piece. The difficulty is that it's impossible to look into a crystal ball and see what content your clients will want one month, one quarter and one year from now. Dictating themes tends to lead to content for content's sake.

As an alternative, plot a goal against a date. The goal might be simple like - create a post to nurture clients in "x" industry or write a series of content in support of a campaign. 

The goal could be as specific as "generate a dozen new leads" as well. The important thing is to see content as a tool to achieve a result rather than a task to be done when other work isn't too pressing.

3. Make your calendar agile - Review success reguarly  

When your team starts their week, how do they see content? Is it as a line item on a to do list or is it a way of achieving what they need to do in that week. 

Consider in weekly meetings discussing the goals and challenges your team faces in the next few days. Build a weekly calendar of what content will help your team meet their goal that week. 

Whether it's progressing a deal, reaching out to new prospects, nurturing long term leads or getting a response from a cold prospect - planning your content week to week offers an opportunity to really listen to your clients and craft content that is actively targeted to deliver value to a specific person.

You'll have a regular stream of useful content and your team will have the tools they need to do their job more effectively while providing value to their audience.