If you have a project or job that needs to be done by a professional and you don’t want to hire a full-time employee, chances are you’re looking to work with a freelancer.
With the exponential increase in the number of people working from home and the rise of the online side hustle industry, there’s never been a better time to find talented, high-quality freelancers online.
Toptal and Upwork are two of the many freelancer marketplaces that have sprung up in recent years to take advantage of this growing industry and make it easier for clients to connect with freelancers.
And although both of these platforms serve the same function, they are different in many ways. So, which is the best option for your company?
In this article, I’ll do an in-depth dive into what Toptal and Upwork have to offer and help you decide which one is the best fit for your needs.
Summary: Which is better for companies, Toptal vs Upwork?
- Toptal is the better option overall for large and mid-sized companies looking for highly-qualified freelancers.
- Upwork is a better fit for smaller companies looking to find freelancers quickly and cheaply.
|Pricing||Fees||Candidate Selection||Support||Notable Clients||Best Fit for:|
|$500 deposit required||Full skills review & rigorous vetting process for all freelancers||Help finding a freelancer from a Toptal team member; account manager for larger companies; email and chat support for smaller companies||Duolingo, Bridgestone, USC, Shopify, KraftHeinz||Large and medium-sized companies that can pay for the best, most qualified freelancers.|
|No fee is required for general use; $50 monthly fee for the Business package||No mandatory vetting process (optional skills test available)||Email support if problems arise; otherwise you’re on your own.||Microsoft, Airbnb, GoDaddy, Bissel, Nasdaq||Smaller companies who want to vet their own freelancers and get the job done quickly.|
How Does Toptal Work?
Toptal (short for “top talent”) is a freelancer marketplace that boasts of working with “only the top 3%” of freelancers.
Although Toptal features freelancers representing a wide variety of services, backgrounds, and skills, some of the most common are graphic designers, web developers, UX/UI experts, project managers, and finance experts.
If you’re a company or an individual looking to hire a freelancer on Toptal, you’ll first need to develop a project or job description that clearly expresses what your goals and expectations for the project are.
Once you’ve done this, a Toptal team member will vet your application. That’s right – just like their freelancers, their clients also need to meet their standards before being allowed to use the platform.
Finally, once your job or project proposal has been accepted, you can either review freelancer profiles yourself and reach out to them personally or work with a Toptal recruiter to find the best freelancer for your specific needs.
Because of Toptal’s rigorous vetting and review process, it can take up to three weeks to be assigned (or find) a freelancer and make a deal.
This is a clear downside if you’re hiring in a rush, but the relatively slow pace of their matching process is deliberately designed to ensure the best results for both your company and their freelancers.
If you want to learn more, check out my full Toptal review.
How Does Upwork Work?
Like Toptal, Upwork is an online platform connecting freelancers with people and companies who need their skills.
To use Upwork, you first have to make a profile on the platform. This is free, and you can sign up as either a client, a freelancer, or both.
Once you’ve made your client profile, you can browse freelancers by category. Some popular categories include Development & IT, Design & Creative, Sales & Marketing, and Writing & Translation.
When you find a freelancer who you think might fit your company’s needs, you can reach out to them directly. Or, alternatively, you can post your job description in Upwork’s Talent Marketplace and let the talent come to you.
If you don’t know where to start, you can also opt to work with one of Upwork’s Talent Scout recruiters and let them help you find the right freelance partner for your project.
For large companies looking to hire multiple freelancers in lieu of normal staffing, Upwork also offers a slightly different platform, Upwork Enterprise.
However, this option is unnecessary for most smaller companies and/or companies looking to hire a single individual for a particular job or project.
Toptal vs Upwork: The Full Breakdown
As you can see, Toptal and Upwork are similar in many ways. However, there are many key distinctions between these two freelancer marketplaces that may make a crucial difference when you’re trying to choose which one is right for you.
As such, let’s take an in-depth look at several important aspects of these platforms and see how they compare to each other.
Freelancer Talent Comparison
For anyone looking to hire a freelancer, the quality of the work they will produce is one of the most important concerns. So, how do Toptal and Upwork stack up when it comes to talent?
Let’s take a look at Toptal first. To sell your labor on Toptal, you first have to pass a rigorous skills review process that can take up to five weeks.
This process includes several steps where different factors are evaluated, including language ability and personality screening, a comprehensive skill review, a live interview, a test project, and more.
In other words, Toptal ensures that all of its freelancers are actually as good as they claim to be. This level of careful vetting is unique to Toptal and not something Upwork offers.
With Upwork, signing up as a freelancer is free and relatively instant. You simply sign up, make an account, and you’re ready to go – no vetting required.
That’s not to say that there aren’t tons of talented, qualified individuals offering their services on Upwork.
In fact, Upwork’s relatively easier sign-up and application process means that there are more freelancers on Upwork at any given time, resulting in a larger pool of talent for you to choose from.
Upwork does offer optional skills testing for freelancers, who can then add the results of these tests to their profiles to boost their chances of finding clients.
All in all, since Upwork doesn’t do the vetting for you (unless you’re using Upwork Enterprise), it’s up to you (the client) to screen potential freelancers yourself and determine whether they’re qualified and fit for your project.
Freelance Marketplace/Platform Comparison
Both Toptal and Upwork come with fairly intuitive, user-friendly platforms that make it simple and straightforward to find a freelancer.
When you create an account with Toptal, you’ll be able to manage all of your ongoing projects through a sleek, polished-looking dashboard. Toptal uses a sophisticated algorithm plus its team of experts to match you with the right freelancers.
The platform’s marketplace layout is organized and straightforward, and thanks to Toptal’s top-notch customer service and simple design, it’s easy to find the right talent to fit your needs.
Upwork also comes with a fairly straightforward, user-friendly dashboard for managing your projects and requests.
Navigating the site is generally quite easy, but due to the sheer number of freelancers, it can be overwhelming at first to sort through and manage work requests.
All in all, when it comes to marketplace design and user experience, Toptal and Upwork are more or less comparable, although Toptal’s hands-on approach to customer service does take a lot of the work off your plate.
Costs & Rates Comparison
One of the most noticeable differences between Upwork and Toptal is their price tags.
Let’s take a look at Toptal first. Toptal requires a $500 deposit, no matter what the ultimate cost of your project will be. This deposit will be refunded if you don’t end up working with any of their freelancers, so it’s relatively risk-free.
Toptal allows clients to negotiate deals for paying an hourly rate, a daily rate, a fixed fee, or a project-based fee.
The hourly fees that freelancers on Toptal charge are relatively higher than on Upwork, with Toptal freelancers charging anywhere from $40 – $120 dollars an hour on average.
Once you decide on a freelancer to work with, you’ll receive a single price quote that includes Toptal’s service charge (they don’t take a commission from their freelancers, so this cost comes out of the client’s side).
All in all, you should absolutely expect to pay more with Toptal than with Upwork.
Upwork is an all-around cheaper option, with some freelancers offering hourly rates as low as $10. Upwork takes its commission fee from the freelancer’s side, not the client’s, so there shouldn’t be any unexpected charges.
Clients and freelancers can agree to an hourly rate, a fixed fee, or to pay by project.
Upwork also offers a more suitable option for larger businesses, Upwork Enterprise, which comes with an account manager, talent sourcing services, a Work Diary to track billable hours, and the option to use Upwork Payroll.
Unsurprisingly, Upwork Enterprise is not free. To sign up, you’ll need to contact the company and get a custom price quote.
When it comes time to pay, Upwork is committed to protecting both the client and the freelancer. Once you’ve paid the agreed-upon amount, your money goes into a frozen account that the freelancer can see but not immediately access.
If you’re unhappy with the quality of the work or feel that it in some way breaches the terms of your agreement, you have ten days to file a complaint with Upwork’s customer service team and have your concerns addressed before your money disappears.
Like most freelance marketplace platforms, both Upwork and Toptal offer customer support. However, that’s pretty much where the similarity ends: when it comes to customer service, Toptal undoubtedly has the upper hand.
Toptal offers a hands-on approach from the very beginning, helping you find the right freelancer for your project and ensuring a good match. If you have any questions or concerns along the way, customer support is available via email and live chat.
Upwork offers email and live chat support, and its website has a helpful forum with troubleshooting advice and answers to many commonly-asked questions. Enterprise clients have phone support, but this option is not available to regular clients.
Many clients have complained that Upwork’s customer service is slow and often unresponsive, and although the company seems to have made an effort towards improvement in this area, it’s still safe to say that Toptal is the better option when it comes to customer support.
Key Differences Between Upwork and Toptal
So what are the most crucial differences between Upwork and Toptal? It comes down to two factors: vetting and cost.
Upwork takes a more hands-off approach, meaning that you (the client) will have to do all the vetting and hiring.
Toptal, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: the platform takes a completely hands-on approach, doing all the vetting, interviewing, and hiring for you.
For this reason, there’s a pretty remarkable difference in cost.
Finding Upwork freelancers is understandably cheaper, but it’s more hit-and-miss. Toptal takes pretty much all risk out of the equation, but ease and peace of mind come with a much higher price tag.
Toptal Pros and Cons
- All freelancers on the platform are carefully vetted and screened, resulting in an exclusive pool of highly ranked professionals.
- The client dashboard is relatively user-friendly and makes finding and hiring talent easy.
- A Toptal team member will help you find the right freelancer and act as a liaison.
- Thanks to Toptal’s careful scrutiny, both clients and freelancers are protected from scammers.
- Excellent option for companies or individuals who need a large-scale, highly specialized project completed by a qualified professional.
- It can take a fair amount of time (up to three weeks) to get matched with a freelancer.
- You get what you pay for, and Toptal is undeniably far more expensive than Upwork.
- Not the best fit for small projects (or small companies working on a tight budget.)
Upwork Pros and Cons
- As one of the most popular freelance marketplaces, Upwork boasts a genuinely huge number of active freelancer accounts on its platform (around 12 million).
- It’s fast and easy to sign up and find a freelancer.
- Skills can be searched for either broadly or narrowly.
- Upwork’s bidding feature helps you get the lowest price possible.
- If there’s a problem, you have ten days to file a complaint with Upwork before the client receives your money.
- Upwork’s huge number of active freelancers can be a pro, but it can also be a con. This is because Upwork doesn’t carefully vet its freelancers, meaning you’ll have to wade through a fair number of inexperienced, underqualified, or just plain poor-quality freelancers.
- Due (again) to their lax vetting process, the platform has dealt with scams in the past.
- Not great when it comes to customer support
Is Toptal or Upwork better for companies?
This largely depends on the kind of company, as well as the kind of job or project you need accomplished.
Toptal is definitely a better fit for large and medium-sized companies that have the budget to pay for top-quality labor.
However, if you’re a small company or individual looking to hire a freelancer quickly and at a more reasonable price, Upwork is likely a better fit for you.
You can find highly qualified freelancers on both Toptal and Upwork. The difference is mostly that you’ll have to sort through more options on Upwork, as well as vet candidates yourself, whereas Toptal does this work for you.
Is Toptal or Upwork better for freelancers?
This largely depends on what you’re looking for.
It’s significantly easier to sign up for Upwork and connect instantly with potential clients. A larger pool of freelancers means you’ll have more competition, but if you have the experience and resume/portfolio to back up your credibility, you should have no problem getting hired.
As for Toptal, the platform requires a fairly rigorous vetting and interview process that can last several weeks. As such, it’s definitely not the fastest nor the easiest option, and if you’re a beginner in your field, you likely won’t get hired.
However, if you have the experience and are willing to put in the time, selling your services on Toptal will likely be much more lucrative.
Unlike Upwork, Toptal doesn’t take a cut from your payment, and the generally higher level of qualified talent on the platform means you can charge a higher fee.
Are there alternatives to Toptal and Upwork?
Absolutely! With the increasing popularity of online side hustles, there has been an explosion of freelancer marketplaces to help qualified freelancers find clients and vice versa (and, of course, to get a cut of the action themselves).
One popular alternative is Fiverr, which is comparable in many ways to Upwork. Fiverr got its name from its first business model, in which freelancers sold small tasks and quick jobs for $5.
The company has since changed its model, with freelancers now able to set their own prices, but the cost remains relatively low.
Other Upwork alternatives include Freelancer.com and YouTeam.
Summary: Upwork vs Toptal in 2023?
Toptal and Upwork are different in many ways, and both platforms have pros and cons.
Upwork is geared towards smaller companies or startups looking to get work done quickly and cheaply, and there are tons of satisfied customer reviews to back up this business model.
Toptal, on the other hand, is designed for larger and mid-sized companies looking to pay for the best freelance talent around. It has a highly skilled labor pool and offers assistance and guidance from start to finish to ensure that you’re happy with the quality of the work and the finished product.
In short, if it’s within your budget, then Toptal is a better talent marketplace for companies looking to hire freelancers.