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Toptal vs Upwork: What Is Better?

Are you looking to start a freelance career? Or your business or enterprise need a few extra hands on a project? Read this Toptal vs Upwork review to find the best talent or clients.

With new freelancing platforms emerging, it can be a bit of a task to choose the best place to kickstart your freelancing career or find remote workers for your gig.

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Fiverr, SolidGigs, and FlexJobs are examples of some platforms where you can find freelancers for a one-time or short-term gig.

However, if you’re planning a long-term contract or you want to hire experts, you need to switch platforms.

Toptal and Upwork are two of the most impressive websites in this regard, considering their strict selection policies and refined business models.

Even after comparing multiple options and narrowing down your selection to two platforms, in the end, you have to select just one.

Hopefully, this Toptal vs. Upwork review will help you make the right decision.

What is Toptal?

Toptal is a freelancing website founded by Breanden Benschott and Taso Du Val in 2010. Initially, the platform only catered to corporate clients, mainly providing software engineers to them.


With time, the platform grew and incorporated more services.

In 2015, they launched Toptal Designers, bridging the gap between professional designers and clients. Think of it as 99designs – but much more streamlined.

In 2016, Toptal expanded even more, now providing business-related services. The next year, a new addition – Toptal Finance – took place.

Today, Toptal focuses on design, finance, software, and tech-related services.

How Does Toptal Work?

Whether you want to work or hire on the platform, you must know Toptal works.

Toptal has a stringent selection process. Thus, they exclusively hire professionals – it’s not a platform for newbies.

If you want to work on Toptal, here is the procedure you’ll have to go through:

  • Language Proficiency:

Anyone who wants to work as a freelancer on the website must read, speak, and write English well.

  • Skill Review:

Secondly, Toptal tests your skills, intellect, and problem-solving capabilities.

  • Live Screening:

Other freelancers with expertise in the field screen new applicants for their communication skills and niche-related abilities.

  • Testing:

Lastly, applicants have to complete test projects in which they’re given scenarios from the real world to prove their competence.

Once you’re hired, you’re expected to maintain a good record with clients, not giving them a chance to complain about you.

Since Toptal is a hub of finance experts, designers, and developers, the vetting process revolves around these niches.

Developers are tested on CS basics, algorithm skills, and sample codes. Likewise, designers have to prove their design skills and show portfolios.


Meanwhile, finance experts are checked through their past experience, analysis skills, and sample scenario tests.

Once a client specifies their needs, Toptal finds a suitable freelancer for them. In most cases, the process takes about a day.

However, if no freelancer can meet the client’s requirements, Toptal might take up to three weeks to find the right person for the job.

Pros of Toptal

Looking at their selection process, you can easily tell that you’ll only find the best talent on Toptal. But that’s not the only merit of the freelancing platform.

Fast Placement

Toptal claims to introduce you to the potential freelancer in just 24 hours.

Besides fast placement, this also frees employers of the hassle of filtering through hundreds of freelancers to find the one that’s best for them.

Toptal reads the client requirements to find a freelancer that’s most appropriate for the gig.

Best Talent

Toptal has high standards that freelancers must maintain if they want to continue on the website. As a result, clients only get high-quality work that won’t need frequent revisions.

If a seller fails to maintain customer satisfaction, Toptal will remove them from the site.

Test Projects

As a client, the first two weeks that you work with a freelancer are the test period.

If you don’t find the freelancer satisfactory during this time, Toptal will reimburse you. Keep in mind that these two weeks don’t equal a free trial. You still have to pay for the hours a freelancer has worked.

If they fail to meet your standards, only then you can submit a complaint. Then, the platform will return your money.

Cons of Toptal

Although Toptal offers top-end services, there are some cons of working or hiring on the platform.

High Rates

Firstly, you’ll notice that the rates on Toptal are much higher compared to Fiverr or SolidGigs.

If you’re a freelancer on the platform, you can calculate the hourly rate for your skill and standardize it according to the normal rates on the platform.

Limited Talent Pool

Clients have to work with a limited talent pool on Toptal mainly because the platform doesn’t allow everyone to make an account.

Also, Toptal’s stringent screening process can sometimes filter out a good candidate, making the pool even smaller for your specific requirements.

What is Upwork?

Upwork came into being in 2015 after Elance and O-desk merger in 2013. Technically, Upwork can be called the oldest freelancing platform since Elance was established in 1999.

While Toptal takes on the task of finding vetted freelancers, Upwork leaves the responsibility to you.

Unlike Toptal, Upwork has vast availability of freelancers from different niches.

You’ll find designers, programmers, developers, writers, translators, finance professionals, marketing experts, and support specialists on the website.

How Does Upwork Work?

Upwork does not offer extensive vetting assistance, except for verifying the seller’s identity.

Here’s how it works: you post a gig, freelancers bid on it, and you choose the most convincing proposal.

In the process, Upwork gives you the liberty to interview or verify the freelancer’s skill as you want.

However, the platform itself doesn’t offer much help in this step.

Upwork Logo

In a Toptal vs Upwork review done solely on the basis of the business model, Toptal might take the win because of how Upwork works.

But then again, some clients find it to be the better way as they are in full control.

Pros of Upwork

Despite not having a vetting process as refined as Toptal, Upwork remains a popular freelancing website among clients and freelancers. Here‘s why.

Huge Talent Pool

Compared to Toptal, the talent pool on Upwork is much bigger.

You’ll find hundreds of results for your search queries. Since you’re in total control of the freelancer you choose, there’s a better chance of you finding the right person for the task.

You can also check the freelancer’s past performance to determine if they’re the best fit for your work.

Owing to the multiple filtering methods, you can list sellers based on their expertise, past rating, and the number of hours they’ve spent working on different projects on the website.

Dispute Mediation

Another benefit of hiring or working on Upwork is the support. If there’s a disagreement over anything – most likely, payment – you can head over to the dispute resolution center.

They help mediate the issue, resolving it smoothly.

Pro tip: when you’re writing a contract, make sure you mention the points related to payment clearly as a transparent contract will work in your favor in case of a dispute.

Lower Rates

While Toptal’s rates are higher, Upwork allows you to have some control over the hourly rates.

As a buyer, when you post your project, you specify the rates you can pay in the description.

Therefore, the only bids that come your way will be from freelancers who’re willing to work at that rate.

Also, you have the option to choose the lowest bidder for a project – although it’s not always the best thing to do if you want high-quality work.

See Related: How to Hire a Freelance Web Developer

Cons of Upwork

Despite being one of the best freelancing sites, Upwork has some limitations.

Upwork Connects

Every seller on Upwork has to buy ‘Connects.’ Connects are the Upwork currency that freelancers need to apply for jobs.

Previously, the platform gave 60 free Connects every month. Now, freelancers have to buy them in order to apply to jobs.

On the one hand, it can get a bit expensive for the sellers. On the other, it often means that you’re missing out on potential workers – who might be perfect for the position – because they don’t have sufficient Connects to apply to your gig.

Limited Assistance

As an employer on Upwork, you have to do most of the work.

First, you have to filter through the list of available freelancers for a certain skill. Then, you must interview them, check portfolios, and take relevant tests.

Overall, hiring freelancers on Upwork is a time-consuming process.

What is Better: Toptal vs Upwork?

As evident from the working framework of Toptal and Upwork, you can say that both platforms have their merits and shortcomings.

Choosing one becomes even easier when you base your decision on certain aspects, such as billing, price, support, etc.

Fee20% / 10% / 5%$500 upfront
Supported LanguagesEnglishEnglish
Prominent ClientsDropBox, AirBnBCSR Limited, Bridgestone
Available SupportEmail, Tickets, Phone, Live chatEmail, Tickets, Phone
AvailabilityWeb-based, Android, iOSWeb-based

Billing Methods

Since both platforms have high rates, it’s crucial to have a secure payment method.

Upwork accepts Paypal and major credit cards. Freelancers charge an hourly rate, depending on the length of the project. A longer project can also be divided into smaller milestones.

Additionally, the payment remains in escrow until the freelancer has met the milestones.

On Toptal, you can pay through bank wires – ABA-routing bank accounts only – major credit cards and PayPal. Freelancers can charge an hourly rate, work full-time or part-time.

However, there are no milestones. Instead, clients usually receive an invoice twice a month.

Trial Period

Whether it’s your first time hiring or you’ve dealt with many freelancers before, it helps to have a trial period.

Many platforms are adopting the risk-free test period policy to satisfy clients and give both parties enough time to ensure they can work together smoothly.

Toptal offers a trial period. If you’re happy with the freelancer’s performance, the platform will bill you for this period, and you’ll continue working from thereon.

However, if you’re unsatisfied, you can report it. Then, you won’t be charged for this duration, and Toptal will find you a newer and better fit.

In contrast, Upwork does not offer anything of this sort. Once a freelancer submits the project or meets a milestone, the payment will be released from escrow, even if you’re not happy with the quality of work.

Sure enough, you can open a dispute in case there’s a breach of the contract terms.


In this regard, there’s a major difference between Toptal and Upwork. Both platforms let you pay an hourly rate.

Toptal also lets you settle on a fixed fee or rate per project. Upwork has these options, too, but the hourly rate is more common.

However, there’s a significant difference in terms of the rates. Since Toptal has the cream of the crop, the rates fall around $50 per hour.

On the other hand, the per hour rate on Upwork starts from $10.


Toptal charges an upfront $500, irrespective of your project’s cost. If you don’t hire anyone, the platform will refund this amount.

In contrast, Upwork has different business plans.

  • Free: Although this plan costs nothing, Upwork charges a 3% fee on all the payments you make on the platform.
  • Plus: The plan costs $49.99 per month and comes with dedicated support. You still have to pay a 3% fee for payments.
  • Business: For $849 per month, you get detailed reporting and an account manager.
  • Enterprise: If you’re a huge business, you can get a quote from Upwork for compliance services.

See Related: TopTal Freelancer Rates


Toptal has a dedicated customer support center that helps you with almost every issue. If you have a top-tier membership, you’ll also get an account manager.

For a free account on Upwork, you’re primarily on your own.

If you want advice or quick tips, you’ll find a wealth of information in the user forums. But the customer support isn’t as effective as that on Toptal.

If you’re a Business or Enterprise client, you’ll get dedicated support to help you through any hurdle you face during employment.


One thing is clear from this Toptal vs Upwork review: both platforms are suitable for higher-end projects – a level above Fiverr.

However, Toptal is the pick for people who want experienced professionals, while Upwork is the right choice for clients looking for intermediate and expert-level freelancers.

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