Ultimate Toptal Review: The best marketplace for hiring freelancers in 2023?

Have you ever heard of the concept of "10x talent"? It refers to software developers and other professionals who have 10 times the productivity, quality, and business impact compared to average individuals in their field.

Companies like Google have touted the immense value that just one of these top-notch engineers can provide, "worth 300 times or more than the average" according to a former VP of Engineering there.

So where can you find this kind of elite talent if you need to hire freelancers for your business? If you are wondering about this too, then this Toptal Review is for you.

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At a glance

Toptal is a highly selective, global network of top-tier freelancers in business, design, and technology. It connects businesses with professionals who are expertly vetted, ensuring access to a pool of highly skilled individuals ready to tackle challenging projects.

The Good:

  • Access to top 3% of global talent
  • Get matched extremely quickly
  • No-risk trial periods
  • Hands-off payment management
  • Excellent experience from rigorous vetting

The Not So Good:

  • Very high freelancer costs
  • Potentially long gaps between projects
  • Limited support options

Sebastian Scheerer
About the author
Hi, I'm Sebastian Scheerer. I've been UI/UX designer and tech startup founder, since 2010. I've co-founded Wunderlist and led its design before its acquisition by Microsoft. I also co-founded and headed the design at ottonova, Germany's premier digital health insurance, aiming for simplicity and customer satisfaction. Crafting user-friendly, impactful products is what I do. Read more about me | Book a call on Mentorcruise

What Exactly is Toptal?

Recently, I decided to explore Toptal, having read multiple Toptal reviews that praised it as a top-tier freelance marketplace. With growing hiring needs in my company, I was looking to find a more streamlined hiring process to hire freelancers.

I looked at many freelance sites. Toptal's services stood out with its promise of providing access to the best talent out there. In their network, they boast a range of freelance talent, from software architects and product managers to finance experts and SEO experts. They also claim to serve multiple clients, from small businesses to large corporations, a factor that demonstrated their ability to handle diverse needs.

What really drew me to Toptal was their unique screening process. They only accept the top 3% of talented freelancers who apply, ensuring that they provide high-quality talent. This rigorous screening process, according to Toptal, is part of their commitment to understanding their clients' hiring needs and providing the most relevant freelancers.

This platform for hiring freelancers focuses on being highly selective about who can join as a freelancer, putting them through a rigorous 5-step screening process including skill tests, sample projects, and English fluency checks. Quite unique amongst freelance marketplaces.

Of the 100,000 applicants who apply to join Toptal each year, only 3% make it through their screening. The majority of accepted freelancers are concentrated in the Americas and Europe.

The result? Toptal says it achieves an insane 98% trial-to-hire success rate for its clients.

So if you need incredibly specialized skills and seasoned experts who can jump right into complex projects, Toptal may be the hiring solution you've been waiting for.

Inside Toptal's Ultra-Selective Screening Process

As mentioned above, Toptal boasts that their acceptance rate is even lower than elite institutions like Harvard or the Navy Seals.

Toptal Screening Process
Toptals Freelancer Screening Process

So what does it take to become a Toptal freelancer? Here are the five steps:

  • Language & Personality: Comprehensive English fluency and communication evaluations plus personality assessments.
  • In-Depth Skill Review: Challenging tests of technical knowledge and problem-solving abilities.
  • Live Screening: Interviews by Toptal's own experts including live exercises.
  • Test Projects: Freelancer candidates are assigned 1-3 week long test projects similar to what a real client would need.
  • Continued Excellence: Freelancers must maintain high standards on actual projects or else face removal. Every new assignment is essentially another test.

That's an intense gauntlet to run, which explains why only 3% of applicants make it through.

But for clients, this rigorous vetting means you can hire with confidence from their network.

An Elite Talent Marketplace With Over 200 Specializations

Even with just five main categories of freelancers - developers, designers, finance experts, product managers, and project managers - Toptal offers an immense amount of specialization.

For example, under developers alone there are over 200 niche skillsets like Uber developers, Chrome extension developers, Kubernetes experts, and literally anything else you can imagine needing in today's complex technical landscape.

Beyond coding, you'll find specialized freelancers like:

  • Blockchain consultants
  • Part-time CFOs
  • Digital advertising experts
  • iOS architects
  • Data scientists
  • Venture capital advisors
  • And on and on...

Just describe the skills you need during the intake process and Toptal will match you accordingly.

Or you can search profiles directly to find the perfect fit for your project.

Legitimacy - Big Brand Clients Like Airbnb, Amazon, and Shopify

Toptal is definitely not a scam. Just look at some of the well-known clients relying on their network of elite talent:

  • Airbnb
  • Amazon
  • Shopify
  • Disney
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Duolingo

Their Project Consultants service also assembles specialized teams for clients' urgent business needs.

And according to their website, the typical Toptal freelancer has worked for companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, & McKinsey earlier in their careers.

The profiles show impressive pedigrees - degrees from Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and years of experience at top firms.

So they have delivered for big brands and can certainly handle your important projects too.

Getting Started: The Toptal Application Process as a Client

Working with Toptal is relatively simple on the client side. Just follow these steps:

1️⃣ Submit a Job Description

Explain the type of talent/skills needed for your project in as much detail as possible. This helps Toptal search.

2️⃣ Get Matched

Toptal will quickly find and introduce candidates from their network within 24 hours on average.

3️⃣ Pick Your Freelancer

After reviewing profiles, you choose the best fit for your project from Toptal's shortlist.

4️⃣ No-Risk Trial Period

You try them out for up to 2 weeks before officially hiring. Only happy clients get billed.

From posting a job to hiring can happen really fast, in some cases, just 3-12 days!

Once you find the perfect match, Toptal handles payments, contracts, onboarding - you just get right to work.

Working With Toptal: Their Unique Process and Great Support

Toptal keeps everything simple but also has its own unique way of doing things. Here are the key details:

📲 It All Starts With a Phone Call

Their system centers around an intro call to discuss your needs in depth first. Especially helpful for complex searches.

You just click a button to request a callback online, choose a time, and a Toptal recruiter will reach out.

⚡️ Speedy Yet Careful Matching Process

Using the details from your call, Toptal starts an urgent search, sending status updates along the way.

When matches come in, they provide extensive freelancer profiles (see below) so you can make the perfect choice.

🙋‍♀️ Responsive Support - But No Live Chat

Despite the premium pricing, Toptal's support options are relatively limited compared to competitors.

You can reach them via email, contact form, or phone for sales inquiries - but no live chat or 24/7 options. However, in my experience email queries are answered rapidly in under 30 minutes - very fast and friendly service. Just don't expect instantaneous replies.

📄 Robust Freelancer Profiles

Click into any candidate's profile and you get tons of helpful info:

  • Bio, education, certifications
  • Full work and education history
  • Technical skills, specialties
  • Availability status
  • Project case studies

Basically everything you need to make a confident hiring decision. Very transparent. In my experience, the project managers are well-versed in technical knowledge and showcased excellent communication skills. This was quite refreshing and instilled confidence in the Toptal hiring process. In addition, having a dedicated account manager made the process feel personalized and efficient.

Another aspect worth noting is the company's stance on remote work. Toptal freelancers are adept at remote freelance work and can seamlessly integrate into your entire team. They understand the importance of project details and can deliver high-quality work in sync with your whole team.

Paying For Premium Talent

When it comes to pricing, Toptal offers a free estimate and clear hourly rates, with no hidden fees or surprises. This transparency in their service fee was definitely appreciated.

As expected, tapping Toptal's elite talent network doesn't come cheap. But there are some helpful aspects to their pricing and payment system:

  • No Fees beyond the freelancer's rate - you pay nothing to Toptal to use the platform
  • Refundable $500 Deposit to initiate a talent search
  • No-Risk Trials let you test-drive freelancers before officially hiring
  • Hourly or Project Rates depending on the engagement terms
  • Payments Handled for You - billing and invoicing fully managed
  • Flexible Billing - make adjustments based on project timeline/terms
  • Various Payment Methods - credit cards, bank transfer, PayPal, checks, wire

So while not the cheapest option, they do provide pricing flexibility. And you know their people are heavily vetted for quality.

Toptal talent costs anywhere from $60 to $200+ per hour at the high end given the top-tier skills and experience.

Just How Much Can You Earn?

The earning potential on Toptal is quite high given the premium pricing. But there are still two limiting factors:

1️⃣ Toptal's Rigorous Screening

You have to be good enough to clear their ultra-selective application process first.

2️⃣ Project Matching Luck

There's no guarantee of steady work. You may go weeks before matching to the right project.

Top full-time freelancers report earning $75k to $90k/year which is exceptional. But for most, it will take time to build up clients and availability.

Still, if you can get consistent gigs, Toptal pays very well compared to alternatives like Upwork.

Global Accessibility With Some Tech Requirements

Toptal welcomes freelancers from over 100 countries to apply. No geographic restrictions.

However, you will absolutely need a laptop or desktop to perform this caliber of freelance work - phone access won't cut it here.

The website itself is mobile-friendly though, so checking your application status on the go is easy.

Toptal's Backers - Top VC Firm Andreessen Horowitz

As further validation of Toptal's startup and tech focus, Andreessen Horowitz is one of their major investors, owning a partial stake in the company.

How Does Toptal Stack Up to Competitors?

Looking at Toptal alternatives like Fiverr Business, I find that Toptal holds a unique position in the services marketplace. Toptal's main selling point is their commitment to quality and their vast pool of freelancers. I can confidently say that I'd recommend Toptal to anyone looking to hire freelancers for their projects.

Here's a quick rundown of how Toptal compares to some similar high-end freelance platforms:

  • Fiverr: More volume and speed, much lower pay, way less selective
  • Upwork: Similar services but more open model, lower pay, bigger pool
  • Arc: Also has selective application process but high-end tech talent focused
  • Guru: Larger network but less curation, slightly lower pricing

Toptal stands out through its extreme selectivity yielding very highly skilled freelancers. But the tradeoff is less overall job volume versus a platform like Upwork with millions of clients posting projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does Toptal cost?

It's free to sign up and browse as a client. Toptal charges by the hour depending on freelancer skill level, anywhere from $60-$200+/hour typically.

There is a $500 refundable deposit required to initiate a talent search.

What types of jobs are on Toptal?

Mostly specialized tech like software development, web design, and mobile app building. But also experts like CFO consultants, blockchain specialists, data scientists, venture capital advisors, etc. Over 200 sub-types of tech roles.

Is Toptal better than Upwork or Fiverr?

For finding elite, extensively vetted talent, yes. For high volume and low costs, no. So it depends on your specific needs.

What's the application process like?

Long and highly selective - only 3% get approved. You need relevant degrees and work experience, to pass skill tests, interviews, sample projects, and English fluency checks.

How quickly can I hire someone?

Toptal says matches usually happen within 24-48 hours. And clients typically hire the first candidate suggested. So the hiring process can take just 3-12 days total.

The Verdict: Is Toptal Worth It?

The Good:

  • Access to top 3% of global talent
  • Get matched extremely quickly
  • No-risk trial periods
  • Hands-off payment management
  • Excellent experience from rigorous vetting

The Not So Good:

  • Very high freelancer costs
  • Potentially long gaps between projects
  • Limited support options

So while hiring through Toptal isn't cheap, if you need mission-critical work done right the first time, their network of elite talent is worth considering.

For less complex needs where cost is a bigger factor, platforms like Fiverr and Upwork may be the better choice. But for senior-level, specialized skills where quality matters more than quantity, the experts available through Toptal can be a great asset.

The bottom line? If your business needs flexibly tap genius-level skills, the cream of the freelance crop is waiting for you at Toptal! Toptal is definitely a good company for hiring top freelance talent. The platform is well worth the investment, providing a risk-free no risk trial and promising access to the best freelancers out there. So if you're in the market to find freelancers for your project, Toptal is definitely a platform worth considering.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase a paid plan. These are products I’ve personally used and stand behind. This site is not intended to provide financial advice and is for entertainment only.

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