The game is tough and requires a bit of grinding out less lucrative low risk contracts until you have an experienced enough crew outfitted with sufficient gear to take on bigger challenges.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way which I hope are helpful to you:
In the early game seek out bandits as they are some of the easiest foes and they drop gear and loot. If you have to engage Goblins, fight them at night. Goblin ambushers with their poisoned bows are accurate and deadly by day. But at night they are much less accurate. Goblins are relatively lightly armored foes so close fast and overwhelm them. Avoid Orcs until your troops are experienced, heavily armored and have war hammers and other weapons that can deal with the Orc Warriors' heavy armor.
Choose crossbows over bows. They don’t have the range of a bow but they can punch through armor that arrows cannot.
Arm your ranged troops with pitchforks/pikes/billhooks. They can whittle down the opponents until they engage your frontline troops, then they can attack from behind the lines. Consider pushing away foes that might deal a deathblow to a wounded front line warrior so that the wounded warrior can safely retreat on their turn.
Arm your frontline troops with throwing weapons. They aren't accurate but you can usually scores some hits while waiting for the enemy to engage in melee.
Claim the high ground. Engaging an enemy that occupies the higher ground is dangerous especially in the early game. Use your troops ability to push enemies off of the high ground if you must engage a foe with a height advantage.
If you want war dogs, get the armored ones. Then use them when units are retreating as they can run them down faster than your troops. Beware of releasing them too near enemies that have not retreated as I think the dogs go for the nearest enemy. Dogs can also attack ranged units which will then stop shooting at your guys and melee with the dog, but you are likely to lose the dog.
As you advance and gain money start swapping out your recruits with Sellswords and hedge knights. Don’t get too attached to your early recruits, even if you’ve leveled them up a lot. A level 11 Sellsword is going to be so much better than a level 11 farmhand.
One exception I make is if an early recruit has high resolve/courage. I focus on making that one Captain and invest in the perks that allow him to rally your troops. Nobles tend to make the best Captains.
A couple other guys to look out for: The Tailor.can stitch together dire wolf pelts to make some kick ass armor. The Bowyer can make a very good bow. Apprentices can be taught by mercs and advance.
Sometimes if you are being pursued by a faction that is too strong for you but you can’t out run them, you can lure them towards a faction that is enemies with your pursuers and initiate a three way fight. Stand back and let the two factions have at one another then swoop in for the kill. If Goblins are chasing you, look for a Bandit camp or Orc cave, etc. Risky, but fun and it gives you a fighting chance.