Toptal vs Upwork Comparison (2023): Features, Fees, Differences

Mike Renaldi

It’s predicted that 50.9% of the U.S. workforce will be made up of freelancers in 2027, as the internet has made it easier than ever for talented professionals to find work online.¹ But with so many platforms out there, how do you know which one is right for you?

In this article, we'll be taking a closer look at two of the most popular platforms for hiring freelancers: Upwork and Toptal. Whether you're a freelancer looking to sign up or a client looking to hire, we'll break down the pros and cons of each platform and talk about how Wise Business can help you pay and get paid.

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Table of Contents

Basic comparison: Toptal vs Upwork

When it comes to finding work as a freelancer or hiring freelancers as an employer, there are two platforms that stand out from the rest: Upwork and Toptal.

Upwork is a great choice for freelancers who are just starting out or who are looking for a wide variety of projects. The platform is very user-friendly and offers a huge pool of clients and job postings. However, competition can be stiff, and rates can be lower compared to other platforms because of the range. On the other hand, Upwork is an excellent option for employers who are looking for a cost-effective way to find freelancers with a wide range of skills.

Toptal is geared more toward experienced freelancers with specialized skills. The platform has a rigorous screening process and only accepts the top 3% of applicants. So, clients and freelancers who use Toptal can be assured that they are working with the best of the best.

Keep in mind this exclusivity also means that competition can be even tougher for freelancers, and rates are generally higher than on other platforms. For employers, though, Toptal is an ideal choice when looking for top-tier talent for high-quality, complex projects.


How does Toptal work?

If you want to take your freelancing game to the next level, Toptal promises to connect clients and freelancers with the top 3%.² But how does Toptal work, exactly?

For talent, the journey to becoming a Toptal freelancer begins with a rigorous screening process. Toptal's team of experts evaluates each applicant's skills, experience, and communication abilities to ensure they meet the platform's high standards. If you pass their 5-step screening process, you'll have access to top-tier projects and clients and become one of their “experts.”

But what about clients? How does Toptal help them find the best of the best? It all starts with a thorough understanding of their project requirements. The proprietary matching process uses human expertise to connect clients with Toptal freelancers who are the best fit for their project.³

Toptal is known for linking elite talent with elite companies - we’re talking Fortune 500 brands, superior startups, and more.

Toptal pricing and fees

So what does it cost to be the best of the best? When it comes to Toptal fees, the answer is surprisingly straightforward. Unlike other platforms that take a hefty cut of your earnings, Toptal doesn’t take a cut of freelancers’ earnings - at all. And since Toptal only works with top freelancers, you can charge a premium rate for your services and still expect to get consistent work.⁴

On the other hand, fees are charged to the client. Clients can expect to pay rates that are comparable to what they would pay for top-tier talent in traditional employment settings. But keep in mind that Toptal will charge a percentage on top of that rate as well as require a $500 deposit when you first join.³

Toptal features

Toptal has a host of features that make the process of finding work or hiring talent a breeze.³ ⁴ So, what are some of the key features that set it apart? Let's take a look.

For freelancers:

  • A second-to-none screening process to ensure that only the top 3% of talent is accepted onto the platform.
  • Access to high-quality clients and top-tier projects.
  • A dedicated talent advisor to help guide you through the process and ensure you are matched with the right projects.
  • Competitive compensation rates.
  • Access to exclusive tools for professional and educational development, such as financial support, coaching programs, and networking opportunities.

For clients:

  • Access to an exclusive network of the top 3% of talent in their respective fields.
  • A proprietary matching process that connects clients with freelancers who are the best fit for their project needs.
  • A 2-week risk-free trial period to ensure that the client is satisfied with the freelancer's work before payment is required.
  • Dedicated project managers who provide ongoing support and ensure that the project is delivered on time and within budget.
  • A satisfaction guarantee that ensures that the client is satisfied with the work delivered or they receive a refund.

Toptal pros and cons

Let's start with the pros:

  • Quality talent: Toptal has a rigorous screening process for its freelancers, which ensures that only the top 3% of candidates are accepted. This means that clients can be confident that they are hiring top-quality talent for their projects.
  • Flexibility: Toptal offers clients the flexibility to hire freelancers on a full-time, part-time, or hourly basis, which can be beneficial for projects of varying lengths and scopes.
  • Time-saving: Toptal handles the screening, interviewing, and onboarding of freelancers, which can save clients a lot of time and effort in the hiring process.
  • Risk mitigation: Toptal offers a two-week trial period, during which clients can test the freelancers they have hired to ensure they are a good fit for their project. If the freelancer doesn't work out, clients are not charged for their time.

Now, let's take a look at the cons:

  • High cost: Toptal's talent comes at a premium price, which may be prohibitive for some clients, particularly smaller businesses or startups.
  • Limited availability: The rigorous screening process means that there are fewer freelancers available on the platform than on other freelance marketplaces. This can make it more challenging for clients to find the right fit for their project.
  • No self-service option: Clients can't simply browse through freelancers and choose who they want to work with. Instead, they must go through the Toptal team to find a suitable freelancer.

Common job types

Toptal offers several different contract types for clients to choose from, depending on their needs and the scope of their project.² The platform also specializes in providing freelance talent in three main areas: tech, design, and finance. Here's a quick summary of the job types you can find on Toptal in each of these areas:

  • Tech: Toptal offers a wide range of tech freelancers, including software developers, engineers, project managers, QA testers, and data scientists. These freelancers have expertise in various programming languages, frameworks, and platforms such as Python, JavaScript, React, Node.js, and more.
  • Design: Design freelancers include UX/UI designers, graphic designers, and product designers. They have experience in creating digital products, visual designs, and branding for businesses across various industries.
  • Finance: In the finance field, you’ll find financial analysts, accountants, and CFOs. These freelancers have expertise in financial modeling, forecasting, budgeting, and accounting, and can help businesses make informed financial decisions.

In addition to these common job types, Toptal also offers freelancers in niche areas such as blockchain development, machine learning, and e-commerce development. In terms of contract length, there is a range of options:

  • Short-term projects: For clients who have a specific, short-term project that they need help with, Toptal offers hourly contracts. The freelancer works a set number of hours per week or per month at their Toptal hourly rate, and the client is only billed for the hours that the freelancer actually works.
  • Long-term projects: For ongoing or long-term projects, Toptal offers part-time and full-time contracts. Part-time contracts typically involve a freelancer working a set number of hours per week or per month, while full-time contracts involve a freelancer working around 40 hours per week.

Benefits of hiring freelancers on Toptal

  1. Top-notch talent: With the rigorous screening process, you'll get access to the cream of the crop when it comes to freelancers.
  2. Flexibility: Hiring freelancers on Toptal gives you the flexibility to scale up or down as needed, adapting to your business needs.
  3. Save time and money: You can save time and money on the hiring process, which means you'll have more resources to put towards growing your business.
  4. Risk mitigation: Toptal offers a two-week trial period, which means you can test out your freelancer and make sure they're a good fit for your project. It's like taking a car for a test drive before you buy it - you can make sure it's the right fit before committing.
  5. Expertise: These freelancers are experts in their field, which means they'll bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to your project.

Benefits of being a freelancer on Toptal

  1. High-quality projects: Clients are looking for the best of the best, which means that freelancers get to work on some really exciting and challenging projects.
  2. Competitive compensation: Toptal pays its freelancers top dollar for their skills and expertise. There’s nothing better than earning a great income while doing work you love.
  3. Access to a global network: The site has a network of talented freelancers from all over the world, and they encourage freelancers to learn from and collaborate with people from different backgrounds and cultures.
  4. Supportive community: Freelancers get to be part of a supportive community and access resources to help them succeed, including mentorship and training programs.
  5. The money’s all yours: Toptal doesn’t take a cut of your earnings, so you get to keep all the money you make.


How does Upwork work?

Upwork is another platform that connects freelancers with clients from all over the world. It's like a virtual marketplace where talent and opportunity come together to create magic.

For freelancers, the journey to success on Upwork starts with creating a killer profile to showcase your skills and experience.⁴ ⁵ Once your profile is live, you can start bidding on projects that match your expertise and interests and receive invites from clients. Unlike Toptal, agencies can also sign up on the site.

Clients post job listings with their project requirements, and then can pick freelancers who have the right skills and experience and let talent apply. The talent pool on Upwork is enormous and vast, leaving clients spoiled for choice.

Once a freelancer is hired, they get to work on the project and communicate with the client through Upwork's robust platform. And the best part? Upwork offers a secure payment system that ensures both freelancers and clients are protected.

While Upwork operates in USD, freelancers can receive money in several currencies. But to get the most out of your hard-earned money, it’s best to get paid in USD and convert the money with Wise.

Looking for a simple way to withdraw funds from Upwork? Start here!

Connect Wise and Upwork >>

Upwork Features

Upwork offers a variety of perks for both clients and freelancers, designed to make the freelancing experience as smooth and successful as possible. Here are some of the key features of Upwork.

For freelancers:

  • Robust job search and proposal system that allows you to find and apply to jobs that match your skills and interests.
  • Customizable profile that showcases your skills and experience to potential clients.
  • Access to Upwork's desktop app to log hours, track your time, message clients, and use the Zoom video integration.
  • The ability to receive feedback and ratings from clients to help build your reputation on the platform.
  • Project Catalog feature, which lets you create predefined ready-to-purchase projects at set prices.
  • Seamless and safe payment procedure, which makes getting paid on Upwork easy.

For clients:

  • Access to a large pool of talented freelancers and agencies from all over the world.
  • A user-friendly platform that allows you to post job listings, find freelancers, and receive proposals.
  • A system with milestones, tracking, and messaging that allows you to communicate with freelancers throughout the project.
  • Upwork's Payment Protection system, which ensures that you only pay for work that has been completed to your satisfaction.⁵ ⁶
  • Ability to upgrade to Upwork Enterprise, which provides access to the top 1% of talent on a full-service platform.⁶ ⁷

Upwork Pros and Cons

Let’s introduce some pros:

  • Large pool of talent: Upwork has a massive pool of freelancers with varying skill sets from all over the world, making it easy for clients to find the right talent for their projects.
  • Flexible pricing and arrangements: Clients can choose to hire freelancers on an hourly, project-based, or ongoing basis and can set their own budgets for each job.
  • Easy to use platform: The user-friendly platform makes it easy for clients to post jobs and for freelancers to submit proposals, making the entire process streamlined and efficient.
  • Secure payment system: A payment protection system ensures that clients are only charged for completed work, and freelancers are guaranteed payment for their work.
  • Innovative features: The company continues to add new features to their platform, such as Upwork Talent Specialists, which helps you attract the most qualified freelancers and agencies.

But like everything else, there are cons:

  • High competition: With such a large pool of freelancers, the competition for jobs on Upwork can be intense, making it difficult for new or less established freelancers to get work.
  • Service fees: Upwork charges a service fee of 5-20% on all transactions plus any applicable taxes depending on your country, which can add up and eat into a freelancer’s earnings.
  • Quality concerns: While Upwork does have a freelancer screening process, the quality of talent on the platform can be inconsistent, and clients may need to spend time vetting freelancers to ensure they are qualified for the job.
  • Limited support: Customer support is known to be limited, and disputes between clients and freelancers can be challenging to resolve.

Common job types

While Toptal specializes in tech, design, and finance, Upwork is a lot more expansive, offering limitless job categories such as design, marketing, translation, and more.⁷ ⁸ Here are a few of the most popular on the platform:

  • Writing and editing: Writing blog posts, articles, or headlines for websites
  • Graphic design: Creating logos, branding, illustrations, and social media graphics
  • Web development: Developing simple websites to complex web applications
  • Virtual assistance: Managing your schedule, answering emails, or handling administrative tasks
  • Marketing: Performing social media management, SEO, or email marketing to get the word out about your business.
  • Translation: Translating documents, websites, or other content into a different language.

And when it comes to contract length, there are a few options:

  • Fixed-price contracts: Fixed-price contracts work by paying freelancers one flat fee for the whole project. These contracts involve the client and freelancer agreeing on a set price for the project upfront. There’s also the possibility to add milestones to the project to make sure things are getting done on time and correctly.⁸ ⁹
  • Hourly contracts: Hourly contracts work at an hourly rate that is negotiated by the client and freelancer.⁸ ⁹
  • Project Catalog work: With Project Catalog, freelancers provide a fixed-price service that clients can buy. It works much like a fixed-price contract, but the offering and price are predetermined.⁹ ¹⁰

Benefits of hiring freelancers on Upwork

  1. Access to a global talent pool: You'll have access to a vast and diverse pool of talented professionals from all over the world. You can choose from thousands of freelancers with different skills, backgrounds, and expertise, making it easier to find the perfect fit for your project.
  2. Cost-effective solution: Hiring on Upwork can be a cost-effective solution for businesses of all sizes. Some freelancers will charge lower rates than traditional employees, which can help you save money on labor costs.
  3. Flexibility: Freelancers offer unparalleled flexibility when it comes to work arrangements. They are available to work on short-term or long-term projects, and they can work remotely from anywhere in the world.
  4. Time savings: Post your project requirements, review freelancer proposals, and hire the right person, all within a matter of days. This can be a significant time saver compared to traditional hiring processes that can take weeks or even months.
  5. Protected payments: Upwork offers payment protection for employers. You can set up escrow payments and make sure that the work gets done to your standards before making any payments to freelancers.

Benefits of being a freelancer on Upwork

  1. Wide range of clients: Upwork has a large and diverse client base, which means you'll have access to a wide range of job opportunities. From small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, there's something for everyone.
  2. Opportunity for growth: As a freelancer on Upwork, you have the opportunity to take on new projects and learn new skills. You can also build long-term relationships with clients and other freelancers, which can lead to more work and higher rates over time.
  3. Easy payment system: Clients can pay you directly through the platform, and Upwork handles all the invoicing and payment processing. There’s also a variety of payment options, including direct deposit, PayPal, and wire transfer, so you can choose what works best for you.
  4. Upwork offers resources and support: Upwork provides a variety of resources to help freelancers succeed, including articles, tutorials, and webinars.
  5. Work with clients you enjoy: The platform’s rating system allows freelancers to rate their clients, which can help you avoid working with difficult or unreliable clients.

Meet Wise Business: A great PayPal alternative

Wise Business: The way to save on payments

Wise Business is a great way to get paid or pay freelancers, whether you're a small business owner or a freelancer yourself.

1. No monthly fees

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With Wise, you can send and receive payments in over 50 currencies, all at the mid-market rate, which means you'll always get a fair exchange rate without any hidden fees. Plus, we make international payments a breeze, with fast and secure transfers that arrive in just a few business days.

Looking for an easy and low cost way to make or receive payments?

Withdraw and spend in your
preferred currency with Wise >>

Free account opening for US-based accounts

Learn more:

Upwork Fee Review: Expert Guide (2023)

Fiverr vs Upwork: Which One is Better For You in 2023?

Upwork vs Freelancer: Which Is Best For You? (2023)



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