This is what I do and I find hard mode pretty easy.
Assuming you start on the plains, with the ascendancy, which is the easiest you can get hard mode to be.
so don’t bother with a fort, you need your hearthlings that are gathered next to the town banner to assist in the combat so they need to be able to get to where your footman is.
The way the worker hearthlings behave when in town alert mode is really convenient as none of them take more than one hit whenever they go to attack as they always hit and run. Therefore you can view the mob of hearthlings as a single unit with a massive HP sink.
Next you want to start with a trappers knife, you need this for food and for fur that you will use to make armour from the weaver.
Days 1-3 -
promote a carpenter and the trapper, lay out 6-8, 50 by 50 trapping zones so the trapper is never idle, I think ~15 by 50 is the most space efficient trapping zone size.
Get the carpenter to level 2-3 and craft a wooden sword and shield (shield is very important, difference between killing and being killed by early varanaus), herbalist staff, masons chissle and weavers loom.
Also craft beds and place them on the floor next to your storage pile.
Whilst the carpenter and trapper are doing this all your other hearthlings need to go out and collect all the berry bushes (~15-20), wild silkweed plants (~30) and brightbells (~15) you can get. Wood and stone also need to be harvested.
Once the carpenter has made each of the promotion items, promote one hearthling to a footman, weaver herbalist and mason.
The weaver needs to be set to maintain one of all the armour items, this way there will always be armour in storage for when a footman levels up or a new footman is promoted.
The mason needs to be rushed to level 1 to make stone mauls and then to level 2 to produce chests. Once a couple of chests have been placed, you can deselect food from your storage area to stop it going mouldy.
The herbalist needs to immediately start producing health tonics, keep an eye on there level and promote them to a cleric ASAP, once you have a cleric promote a second hearthling to be a herbalist and do the same.
Once you have set all the crafters going with there jobs and have ample resources you can start with the first building.
Days 4-7 - first building has finished or is nearly there and mason is getting up to level 3, get a blacksmith ASAP and get bronze maces.
Build another building preferably the smallest building possible that will give you enough wealth to knock you over 1100 to get a 9th hearthling.
Promote a second hearthling to a footman.
once you have a blacksmith level 2 get a knights shield and promote a footman to a knight (preferably your second footman as your first is going for level 6 footman to get the damage necessary to kill them golems).
From then on in make sure you have over 40% of your hearthlings as combatants and you should be fine.
Also archers with spiky arrows are invaluable.