As a Toptal freelancer with over two years of experience on the platform, I’ve gained a comprehensive understanding that goes beyond just the freelancer’s view.
Although my role was that of a freelancer, this experience uniquely positions me to offer insights that are valuable not only to fellow freelancers but also to businesses in search of top freelance talent.
In this article, I aim to share my honest perspectives, catering to both sides of the Toptal experience.
For the discount please refer to this section
First Things First: Is Toptal Legit?
The straightforward answer is yes. Here are the convincing facts:
- High-Profile Clients: Toptal’s clients include well-known companies such as Motorola, Bridgestone, Gucci, HP, Shopify, and Udemy, along with thousands more.
- Substantial Revenue: In 2023, Toptal’s annual revenue reached remarkable $200 millions.
- Global Headquarters: Toptal has major offices in San Francisco, New York, and Wilmington, DE.
- Community Contributions: The company is involved in public activities, including sponsoring Scholarships for Female Developers and various hackathons.
- Renowned Investors: Early investment in Toptal came from influential sources like Andreessen Horowitz, known for backing Skype, Facebook, and Airbnb at the early stages, and Adam D’Angelo, the founder of Quora and a member of the OpenAI Board of Directors.
Benefits of Working with Toptal
Toptal’s freelancers are categorized into specialized niches, such as Cyber Security, Blockchain Development, or Data Science.
To be eligible for any of these niches, a freelancer must pass a thorough screening process overseen by a Toptal Domain Lead.
This ensures that only highly skilled professionals are matched with your job listing.
Efficient Hiring Process
The time from posting your job description to having a Toptal freelancer join your project can be as short as 48 hours.
If you need a professional who can align with your team’s working hours or occasionally work on-site, expect a turnaround of about one to two weeks – still significantly faster compared to the traditional 30-40 days often required to hire a full-time employee.
Toptal doesn’t market itself as a low-cost option. In fact, it’s often perceived as more expensive compared to others like Upwork, where rates start at $3/hour.
However, Toptal’s real competition is with your full-time employees, and it often proves to be a more cost-effective choice.
Consider a mid-level Web Developer whose base salary is around $150k. When adding health insurance, taxes, 401k contributions, and paid vacation, the total employment cost can reach approximately $95-100/hour.
A Toptal developer with similar expertise might cost you between $50 and $60 an hour, without any added expenses.
Furthermore, Toptal Talents often surpass their full-time peers in performance.
Risk-Free Trial Period
When you select a freelancer, you get a one-week trial period to assess their fit for the project.
If you’re not completely satisfied, there’s no charge.
However, given Toptal’s 98% success rate in trial-to-hire, the likelihood of dissatisfaction is quite low.
Downsides of Toptal
A significant number of Toptal freelancers, particularly those offering high-quality services at lower rates, are not native English speakers. Despite Toptal’s requirement for good English proficiency among its candidates, sometimes during the screening process, exceptional technical skills may slightly overshadow language proficiency.
This issue tends to be more prominent in technical fields like UI Design or Software Engineering. In contrast, Managers and Financial Advisors on Toptal generally have native-level English proficiency.
Limited Time Overlap
Toptal’s network comprises about 20,000 freelancers, thanks to its stringent screening process. While this ensures high-quality talent, it also means fewer options when matching time zones. Many Toptal freelancers operate with a 3-5 hour time difference from their clients.
Nevertheless, Toptal freelancers often adjust their schedules to better align with their employers’ working hours.
Restricted Professional Range
It’s important to note that Toptal does not cater to all industries. Toptal’s focus is on specific sectors, offering expertise in the following areas:
- Software Developers
- UI Designers
- Product/Project Managers
- Financial Consultants
For needs outside these domains, such as SEO, Video Editing, or Copywriting, Toptal doesn’t offer options.
If you’re seeking professionals in these areas, Toptal is not the appropriate platform.
How Much Does Toptal Cost
The pricing on Toptal varies significantly based on several factors, including the freelancer’s geographical location.
Freelancers from Asia typically offer the lowest rates. Those from Latin America and Eastern Europe charge slightly more but are still quite affordable, while freelancers based in Western Europe and North America tend to be the most expensive.
Skills and experience of the freelancers also play a critical role in determining the cost. If you’re in need of a highly versatile professional who can handle a wide range of project needs, or a top-tier consultant to elevate your in-house team’s capabilities, expect to pay a premium.
Below are the average Toptal rates for various professional categories:
|Hourly rate – short term jobs
|Weekly rate – long term jobs
How Does Toptal Work
To begin, visit Toptal’s website, click on “Hire Top Talent,” and complete the form provided. The platform requires a $500 refundable deposit, which will be credited against your first invoice if you hire a freelancer.
You’ll need to detail the position, including responsibilities, necessary skills, experience, and your budget for the hourly rate. Toptal’s matchers then search for the most suitable candidates and invite them to apply for your position. Simultaneously, your job listing becomes accessible to other potential candidates within Toptal.
From the pool of invited and other applicants, matchers select the top 3-5 talents and introduce them to you, each accompanied by a cover letter. At this stage, you can choose one or more candidates for interviews with yourself and/or your team.
Once you decide to proceed with a candidate, inform the matcher and confirm your selection. You will agree on a start date for the engagement, which can often be as soon as 2-3 days, or even the next morning in some cases.
The engagement begins with a Risk-Free Trial week, allowing you to evaluate the freelancer without any obligation. At the trial’s end, you’ll decide whether the talent meets your needs. If satisfied, the freelancer continues working; if not, you won’t be charged, and you can start a new trial with a different candidate. This scenario is rare, as Toptal’s trial-to-hire success rate stands at 98%.
Upon a successful trial, you’ll be invoiced for the first week of work, followed by bi-weekly billing for the duration of the engagement. You retain the flexibility to end the engagement whenever necessary.
The entire hiring process, from clicking “Hire Top Talent” to the freelancer beginning work on your project, ranges from as little as 24-48 hours for general roles to up to two weeks for more specialized or complex positions.
While Toptal leads in its niche, several competitors offer similar services.
Toptal vs BairesDev
This company is a close competitor to Toptal, focusing even more narrowly on Software Development. With a network of over 4000 developers, BairesDev has attracted impressive clients like Google, Adobe, and Pinterest.
Toptal vs Turing
Another Toptal alternative with a significant distinction: it hosts over 3 million freelancers. Given this volume, Turing employs AI for matching instead of manual processes. They also boast a robust initial screening and claim a 95% success rate in transitioning freelancers from trial to hire, making them a viable option. Their client list includes major names like Disney, Volvo, and Pepsi.
Toptal vs Arc.dev
Similar to Turing, Arc.dev uses AI for matching clients with candidates. A notable difference from Toptal is their approach to long-term, full-time engagements: where Toptal retains freelancers on their platform, Arc.dev facilitates in-house placement of freelancers after a successful 3-month trial, charging the client a transfer fee. With over 300,000 freelancers, Arc.dev’s clientele includes well-known companies like Spotify and Udacity.
Toptal vs Upwork
Upwork, another giant in the freelance marketplace, doesn’t exactly compete directly with Toptal. Upwork boasts an enormous pool of 18 million freelancers, but the quality of the majority is often not up to par.
Unlike Toptal, Upwork lacks any vetting process, allowing virtually anyone to register on the platform.
This leads to scenarios where freelancers might exaggerate their experience, accumulate unearned positive reviews, and set high rates without the corresponding quality to back them up.
While there are indeed thousands of skilled freelancers on Upwork, sifting through to find one capable of delivering high-quality results can be a daunting task.
If you’re exploring Toptal for the first time and are interested in discounts, you can utilize my partner link, and obtain a $2000 credit to use on the platform’s services – a great way to begin your experience with Toptal’s professional freelancers.
How it works:
- Click the referral link and you will be guided to sign up and create a Toptal profile.
- Explain your needs and requirements to a talent matcher over a call.
- You will be matched with a hand-picked talent and hire your talent choice.
- After completing the risk-free trial, you will get a $2,000 invoice discount.
What is Toptal for Freelancers
Unique in many ways, Toptal redefines the freelance platform concept. It’s a pretty ambitious task to gain entry, but once you are in, your freelance career will change dramatically. Even if you hadn’t had any clients in freelancing before, with Toptal you will have the opportunity to kickstart your career.
Benefits of Working on Toptal
Let’s start with the positives. What drives individuals to join Toptal? Is it the occasional giveaway of free money to freelancers? Haha, not quite. However, they certainly have an abundance to offer.
High Volume, Long-Term Contracts
The majority of job opportunities on Toptal are long-term engagements. While there are plenty of projects requiring as little as 5+ hours a week, most positions offer 20 to 40 hours per week. Clients typically seek commitments ranging from 3 months to a year or more. For those looking to fill their schedules exclusively with Toptal projects, this makes it a relatively easy task.
High Income Without Client Negotiations
Toptal’s market niche is premium pricing for top-tier quality. Clients flock to this platform expecting excellently executed work, reliable timelines, and profound expertise. The expectation of high-quality work at low costs is rare here, which is a positive indicator for freelancers capable of delivering such standards.
Low Competition Among Freelancers
Although Toptal hosts over 10,000 freelancers, the demand is so robust that it ensures ample job availability for all on the platform. With Toptal maintaining a high entry barrier for candidates, there’s little indication of this dynamic changing dramatically anytime soon.
The Flip Side of Toptal
While there are many positives to Toptal, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not without its imperfections. Like any freelance platform, Toptal has its own set of challenges and drawbacks. My role here is to lay out what I perceive as the cons of Toptal, leaving you to weigh these against the benefits.
High Client Expectations
Clients turn to Toptal for more than the standard quality found on platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. The expectations here are significantly higher than those for a full-time employee. As a Toptaler, when you join a new team to work on a project, don’t anticipate a leisurely onboarding period. Clients often expect tangible results within the first few days, even on large-scale projects.
No Benefits, No Paid Time Off
This is a common feature not just of Toptal, but of freelance platforms and entrepreneurship in general. You’re responsible for your own health insurance and retirement savings. This becomes particularly noticeable in full-time engagements with Toptal, where comparing it to traditional employment is more apt due to their similarities.
In a regular job, you’d expect benefits like paid vacation and sick leave, and maybe even a work laptop. Working with Toptal, however, means covering all these expenses yourself. A sick day? That’s a loss of 8 hours’ pay from your monthly income. Planning a week off? It will mean missing out on thousands in earnings.
Who Can Join Toptal
Let’s explore who Toptal is looking for. Even if you’re highly skilled in your field, not meeting just one of the following criteria means the need for further development before applying. The ideal Toptal candidate fits this profile:
- Professionals in specific fields: Software Engineers, UI Designers, Project/Product Managers, and Financial Consultants.
- T-Shaped Skills: It’s crucial to be knowledgeable not just in your primary area but also in related technologies. For instance, if you’re a React engineer, it’s beneficial to have a solid understanding or practical experience with Node.js, various SQL and noSQL databases, and cloud computing, ideally AWS. The broader your skill set, the more appealing your application will be in the job vetting process.
- Minimum Professional Experience: Candidates should have at least 2-3 years of experience in their respective fields. But the more – the better.
- Language and Communication: Fluency in English and excellent overall communication skills are essential.
- Methodology and Teamwork: Proficiency in Agile methodologies and being an effective team player are highly valued.
How Much Does Toptal Pay
Toptal is not forthcoming with statistics on freelancer earnings, and large-scale, open surveys offering such data are not readily available. However, based on my personal experience on the platform, supplemented by research, including reviews from other Toptalers and various blog posts, I can provide a general idea of the payment range. Significantly, Toptal rates tend to correlate with the freelancer’s location and their level of experience.
|Hourly rate – short term jobs
|Weekly rate – long term jobs
It’s important to note that Toptal does not impose specific rate requirements on its freelancers. Setting rates is entirely at the freelancer’s discretion.
That said, there is a notable limitation for long-term engagements: your rate must be set before beginning the project. You can only increase your rate after a minimum of one year from the start of the engagement.
Alternatively, you have the option to leave the project, adjust your rates, and then seek a new client.
What Are the Toptal Fees
Despite marketing claims suggesting otherwise, Toptal does indeed incorporate fees, though not in the way one might initially think. As a freelancer on Toptal, you do receive the entirety of your set rate; the fees are the client’s responsibility.
On average, Toptal adds a fee of about 20% to the freelancer’s rate, though this percentage can vary depending on the specific project.
In practical terms, if you charge $50 per hour, you would receive $4000 in your account biweekly. Meanwhile, the cost to the employer for your services would range from approximately $4700 to $5000.
Toptal Application Process
If you’re considering giving Toptal a try, it’s important to understand their screening process. Here’s a step-by-step rundown:
- Application Submission: begin by applying at Toptal’s application page.
- Initial Conversation: you’ll have a discussion with a Talent Screening Specialist who will evaluate your English proficiency and communication skills, alongside a basic assessment of your technical abilities.
- Assignment of ‘Homework’: expect to receive a practical task. In my experience, this involved a React/Redux application with specific requirements that demanded several hours of dedicated work. Be prepared for a challenging deadline.
- Technical Review: if your submission meets their standards, the next step is scheduling a call with a Technical Specialist. They will thoroughly review your work. It’s crucial to justify each aspect of your solution. In my case, even after extensive refining of my functional code, the Toptal reviewer (a highly skilled programmer) identified areas for improvement.
- Theoretical Questions: alongside the technical review, you’ll be asked various theoretical questions. I found these to be very relevant to everyday work scenarios.
- Profile Setup: once you pass these stages, you can access the platform. This involves creating your Toptal profile, listing past positions, skills, a brief bio, etc. You’ll also set your initial rate. When I began, I set mine at $50/hour, which I soon realized was quite modest for the US market.
- Job Board Access: with your profile complete and approved, you gain access to the Job Board. Here, you can apply to jobs that match your skills, available time, and commitment level. Additionally, Job Matchers will send you invitations to jobs that suit your profile.
- Client Interaction: when selected for a role, you’ll typically have a direct discussion with the client. This could be another round of interviews or a one-on-one meeting with a key figure like the CEO, CTO, or Team Lead.
This is it. The entire process took me less than two weeks to get through and an additional week or two to begin working on a full-time project, where I spent the ensuing year.
Toptal claims that only 3% of freelancers worldwide successfully navigate this path. I find this somewhat overstated. I’m certainly not a genius and don’t boast 20 years of experience, but I managed to make it through.
What it really required was full commitment.