Toptal vs Upwork: Which Freelance Platform is Better to Hire From?

July 13, 2021

We recommend you hire freelancers on Toptal over Upwork because Toptal vets their talent. However Upwork has more freelance talent than Toptal.

Toptal vs Upwork: Which Freelance Platform is Best to Hire From?

Quality vs. quantity. Ah, the classic debate! And when it comes to hiring freelancers, the debate is still there.

Toptal has a large number of quality freelancers for you to add to your team. But Upwork has a lot more freelancers, filling in the talent gap where Toptal doesn’t have the right freelancers (yet).

In this article, you’ll learn about the difference between hiring freelancers on Toptal and Upwork. This will help you decide which website is best for your needs.

Upwork praise and pros

Upwork does a good job of removing scammy and inactive users.

This makes it relatively easy to find virtual assistants and entry-level associates to help you get work off your plate.

Finding and hiring top talent on any freelance platform is time-consuming. Which is why I recommend platforms like Toptal and DesignBro, which curate quality talent for you.

If you want to do the work yourself, here’s a quick process I recommend using:

  1. Write out a detailed job description. Make it clear and specific what you want and do not want. This will give you clarity to ignore freelancers who tell you they can do the work when they can’t. Some quality freelancers will also disqualify themselves if they’re not a fit.
  2. Ask for samples of previous work. No case study will perfectly align with your project. However, it will help to find out a person has the potential to deliver the results you need.
  3. Do a video interview or two. Here you’re getting a feel for the freelancer personally and professionally. I recommend you get intensely curious on the call. Ask them about their process. Ask how they got their previous results. Ask them for the name of those clients and contact information. Then ask what those clients will say about them when you talk to them on the phone. Dig deep into their strengths and weaknesses, and don’t let them off the hook with a weakness hiding as a strength.
  4. Do a small test project. At the end of the day, nothing beats seeing how someone does live. Keep the scope small to minimize your loss if the project flops. But remember, you also want the project to be relevant in case it’s a success.

Toptal praise and pros

Toptal’s claim to screen 3% of the talent may or may not be entirely accurate (I’ll discuss Toptal’s vetting process in a moment).

What matters is Toptal saves you time spending hours filtering through freelancers for their performance. After all, if Toptal didn’t have hoops for freelancers to jump through, then their available talent would dilute. As a result, their market differentiation would be… the same as almost any other freelance marketplace.

Many entrepreneurs hiring on Toptal note their support staff is very hands-on. Toptal also has a fantastic UI and billing process. 

Toptal has a fast placement process. According to Toptal, “In a typical engagement, we’ll introduce you to candidates within 24 hours. And 90% of our clients hire the first candidate we introduce.”

Toptal sets high standards for freelancers. Freelancers must maintain high customer satisfaction ratings. Otherwise, Toptal will remove them from the platform.

A no-risk test project. The first time you work with your freelancer, you get a two-week test period with your new hire. If you’re not satisfied, Toptal will take the loss and won’t charge you for the freelancer’s work. (Please note: this is not a “free trial” in that if you accept the project, you will pay for the hours billed).

Toptal’s screening process 3% will weed out some quality workers. But it’s better to miss out on a potential A player than to waste precious time on a borderline freelancer who turns out to be a B or C player.

Winner: Toptal

What type of freelancers can you hire on Upwork and Toptal?

Freelancers on Toptal

Toptal doesn’t have nearly the total number of freelancers for you compared to Upwork. But do you really need 12 million freelancers, or just a handful of freelancers to consider to get the job done? More than 100,000 people apply to join Toptal every year, but they accept only 3%. In simple numbers, that means they add roughly 3,000 freelancers every year. 

That means rather than spending your time and energy vetting freelancers, Toptal does the heavy lifting for you.

Toptal is a good place to start if you’re serious about growing your business and are ready to invest in top talent at a reasonable rate. 

As of this writing, Toptal has vetted developers, designers, and finance experts. If you want to hire a freelancer with a different skill set, you may want to consider a different freelance platform.

The difficulty of using Toptal to source freelancers is if you are looking for someone to help with a small, one-off project. Toptal asks for a $500 commitment for the first project, which is fully refundable if you’re freelancer is not a fit.

Freelancers on Upwork

Upwork has a massive freelance talent pool to choose from, with over 12 million freelancers. Additionally, according to Upwork’s CEO, they get over 10,000 people signing up to their website every single day. Whether you are looking to hire a Ruby on Rails developer, a brand designer, or a software engineer, if you’re looking for freelance talent, Upwork has it. 

Upwork is a good place to start if you’re looking to dip your toe into the freelance talent pool to see what a short-term, one-off project is like.

The difficulty of using Upwork to source freelancers is that you have to vet the talent. And if you don’t have a clear process to get the results you’re looking for, you’re banking on the freelancer having enough in place to do this for you. This is where Toptal shines.

Winner: Toptal

What is the screening process on Toptal and UpWork?

Toptal’s screening process

What’s Toptal’s vetting process to make sure you work with world-class talent?

Toptal uses a 5-step screening process to source the top 3% of freelancers:

  1. Language & Personality - In this phase, Toptal is looking for candidates who read, write, and speak English fluently. They also look for personality traits, drive, and passion to see the work through to completion. According to Toptal, an estimated 26.4% of applicants pass this test.
  2. In-depth Skill Review -  Here, Toptal screens freelancers for technical knowledge. It’s common to use a codility test or an automated test of one’s programming skills. According to Toptal, only 7.4% of total applicants make it through this round.
  3. Live Screening - After testing the freelancer’s skills, Toptal does a live screening test. Toptal supplies an expert in each domain to do a video chat with the applicant. During the screening, the candidate receives a test while an expert watches how and what they code. If they fail, they may be asked to re-apply in a month. According to Toptal, only 3.6% of applicants pass this round.
  4. Test Projects - Over 1-3 weeks, a freelancer must complete a test project related to a real-world scenario. Here, the candidate puts everything into action, testing everything from competence to their professional style. According to Toptal, only 3.2% of applicants pass this round.
  5. Continued Excellence - Once the test is complete, Toptal freelancers are expected to maintain high-quality work. If work quality slips or there’s poor communication, the freelancer is let go. According to Toptal, only 3% of applicants continue to their high standards.

Even with this level of screening, Toptal has a wide pool filled with a specific talent set. Instead of hiring any DevOps engineer, Toptal can help you find an “AWS DevOps engineer who understands Docker, Jenkins, RDS...” and any other needs you may have. 

The dollar per hour will often increase when you need a specific skill set. But you’ll also know the freelancer better fits your needs than finding a freelancer for yourself on Upwork.

Upwork’s screening process

While Upwork doesn’t have a formal screening process, they do their best to keep bad players off their platform.

To keep it simple, Upwork wants freelancers to create a 100% complete profile. To get a 60% complete profile, freelancers need to include:

  1. Profile Photo
  2. Profile Title 
  3. Profile Overview
  4. Employment History
  5. At Least 1 Skill Tag

The final 40% comes with a mix of different profile items you can add. This includes:

  1. Portfolio Item - 5% each (max 20%)
  2. Employment History Item - 10% each (max 20%)
  3. Education - 10% each (max 20%)
  4. Profile Video - 10% 
  5. Linked Account - 10% (max 10%)
  6. Certification - 5% each (max 10%)
  7. Other Experience - 5% (max 5%)

Upwork's screening process

Winner: Toptal

How long is the hiring process before you work with a freelancer on Toptal and Upwork?

Toptal’s hiring process

Hiring normally takes a long time, as anything worth doing should take time. But because Toptal screens their candidates, they can place you with a candidate in 48 hours:

Work with Toptal Freelancers

If there are no candidates available in Toptal’s network, it typically takes 1-3 weeks for Toptal to locate, screen, and work with every expert.

Upwork’s hiring process

With Upwork, you set the pace of the hiring process. That said, finding the right candidate involves:

  1. Write out a detailed job description (0-2 hours).
  2. Wait for candidates to apply (1-3 days).
  3. Schedule a phone call (1-5 days).
  4. Wait for the freelancer to scope out the project and send a proposal (1-3 days).
  5. Choose from the proposals (1-3 days).
  6. Negotiate the proposal (1-3 days).
  7. Sign the proposal (1-3 days).

Again, there’s a degree where you set the speed in which you hire. But hiring too fast will cause more damage to your business and brand in the long run.

Winner: Toptal

Pricing and fees: How much does it cost to hire freelancers on Toptal and Upwork?

Toptal’s pricing

Toptal does not charge a fee above their regular pricing. Instead, they add a profit margin above the freelancer’s rates. 

Most rates you’ll pay are what you’d expect to pay outside their platform. 

Toptal offers this pricing chart:

Toptal pricing - What’s Toptal’s fee structure?

What you pay your freelancer depends on:

  • The tech stack needed for your project.
  • The necessary skill(s) to complete the task.
  • The project size.
  • What market you are in.
  • General market demand for the type of freelancer needed.

Upwork’s pricing

Upwork will charge you 3% on every payment you make. This is common among freelance marketplaces

In addition, Upwork costs $49.99 a month for their Plus plan. 

Plus Upwork members receive:

  • Dedicated assistance. Upwork claims they will cut your hiring time in half with smarter hiring and 24/7 dedicated advisor support.
  • Project promotion. You’re able to highlight your projects to attract more in-demand freelancers and agencies.
  • Project tracking. Advanced reporting to track the progress of your projects for improved efficiency.
  • Seamless collaboration. Provide your team with full access and gain greater project visibility throughout its duration.
  • Hassle-free payments. Track all invoices and pay with multiple payment options.
  • Invite up to 15 freelancers per job post. This is 12 more than what the free plan currently allows.

For bigger business clients, Upwork offers a Business plan for $849 per month. You’ll pay a 10% service fee on all payments to freelancers rather than 3%.

Business Upwork members receive everything from the Plus plan, and:

  • A consultative account manager. The account manager will give you strategic guidance on how to use Upwork.
  • Sourcing support. You’ll get experienced talent specialists to help you find the best match for your project.
  • Consolidated billing. Instead of paying per project, you’ll get a consolidated invoice.
  • Enterprise-grade reports. Get company insights and trends with enterprise-grade reports.

Finally, Upwork also offers an Enterprise plan with no price listed. In addition to the Business plan, you get:

  • Worker classification compliance services
  • Custom configurable contracting and onboarding process
  • Project-based or managed solutions, and dedicated account executive

Winner: Toptal

Does Toptal or Upwork offer any kind of risk-free trial or guarantee?

Toptal’s no-risk test project

Toptal requires a $500 deposit which applies to your first bill. If you get a freelancer you are not satisfied with, you are not required to make any payment. You can choose to either part ways with Toptal or restart the hiring process.

The first time you work with your freelancer, you get a two-week test period with your new hire. If you’re not satisfied, Toptal will take the loss and won’t charge you for the freelancer’s work. (Please note: this is not a “free trial” in that if you accept the project, you will pay for the hours billed).

Toptal does not mention any information on their website how they handle disputes. However, every Toptal client receives an account manager who can help resolve your issues.

Upwork’s dispute process

For the most part, Upwork let’s the freelancer and client do their own projects without stepping in. However, if push-comes-to-shove, Upwork is willing to step in to resolve any disputes.

The length of a dispute resolution depends on the project type.

Hourly disputes related to time billed by the freelancer during the previous work week will be processed within 4 business days.

Hourly disputes outside of the above time frame along with any fixed price disputes may take up to 30 days to be resolved. Upwork will contact both parties within 2 business days to begin the process.

Winner: Either Toptal or Upwork

Is Upwork or Toptal better for hiring freelancers?

Upwork and Toptal are both beneficial for different hiring needs.

When should you consider hiring on Toptal?

Toptal is an excellent freelance platform for hiring quality talent. Because of the time they invest in curating the best talent, you’ll spend less time to find the right freelancer.

If you’re looking to hire vetted developers, designers, or finance experts for a project with a budget of $2,000 or more, go with Toptal.

When should you consider hiring on Upwork?

Upwork has more freelancers than Toptal. So if you want to train up workers to outsource work you know how to do, Upwork is a good source to do so.

Further, Upwork has access to freelance talent that Toptal doesn’t have at the moment. If you’re looking to work with translators, videographers, or marketers, Upwork will be your better bet.

If you have the opportunity to work with Toptal freelancers, check out Toptal first.