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Upwork vs Toptal: Which site is the best for Freelancers?

If you’ve already read our reviews of Upwork and Toptal but you still aren’t sure which platform is best for you, keep reading. In this article, we’ll break down the differences of Upwork vs Toptal and compare how each one operates.

Upwork vs Toptal: What is Upwork?

Upwork is one of the most well-known freelancing platforms on the web right now. It’s suitable for a range of experience levels, from beginner to established freelancers.

If you want to know how Upwork operates and get our opinions of the platform itself, check out our review on it. It’s a very straightforward platform to use. You simply create your account, set up your profile and start applying to jobs. Upwork does limit the number of jobs you are able to apply for at one time. You have to use “connects” every time you apply for a job. We’ll go into the details about how this works in the next section.

best freelancing websites Upwork homescreen

Is Upwork Free To Use?

Yes, Upwork is free to use. However, there are a couple of situations where you might find yourself paying for the opportunity to apply to jobs.

As we mentioned above, Upwork operates on a system where you have to use “Connects” to apply for jobs. You are given a certain amount of connects when you join the platform. You get more free connects each month. There’s also the possibility to earn more Connects by doing things like responding to interviews and passing the Upwork Readiness Test.

The purpose of the connect system is to prevent spam and make freelancers conscious about what jobs they are applying to. However, you aren’t only limited to the connects given to you. You can actually purchase more.

Connects cost $0.15 each and are sold in packages. Buying connects is one way you might find yourself paying to use Upwork.

The other way you might pay into Upwork is by joining their Freelancer Plus program. It costs $14.99 per month and gives you 80 connects each month, along with a couple of other benefits.

It is completely possible to use Upwork without ever paying a dime though. If you consistently respond to clients and take your work seriously, it’s relatively easy to keep the connects rolling in.

best freelancing websites Toptal homescreen

Upwork vs Toptal: What is Toptal?

Toptal is a pretty unique freelancing platform when compared to the others we’ve talked about on Freelancing Labs. One reason for that is the exclusivity of the platform. In order to get onto Toptal, you have to pass an extensive vetting process that takes weeks. They accept only a small category of freelancers in terms of the types of work they facilitate. Additionally, they expect their freelancers to have a significant amount of experience under their belt.

In the following comparisons, Toptal’s unique approach will become clear. It’s a competitive platform to get on. However, because of that, the potential rewards are a lot greater.

Is Toptal Free To Use?

Toptal is absolutely free to use. There is no paid membership option, nor do you have to pay to apply to jobs. Of course, Toptal takes a percentage of each transaction, like all of the platforms we have reviewed so far. This is standard practice on freelancing platforms.

Upwork vs Toptal: The Differences

Toptal’s Vetting Process is LONG

This is really where Toptal is set apart from many of the other freelancing platforms. Toptal’s vetting process can last anywhere from two to five weeks. Even if you make it through the first or second stage, it isn’t guaranteed that you will be hired. This is a significant time commitment, especially when compared to other platforms.

Toptal’s Clients Pay More On Average

Upwork is known to have high-paying clients when compared to platforms like Fiverr and However, Toptal brings things up a notch when it comes to the kind of pay you can expect from their clients. In fact, Toptal assesses a client’s budget before they even let them get into contact with freelancers. It is the complete opposite of a platform like Fiverr which facilitates many low-cost projects.

When you compare Fiverr and Upwork, Upwork looks like the high-end option. However, when you add Toptal to the mix, Upwork becomes more of a mid-range option for freelancers.

Even though there isn’t public data on how much of a difference there is between client pay on Toptal and Upwork, the self-reported income for Toptal freelancers is quite impressive. According to Glassdoor, Toptal’s freelancers earn between $50,355 and $234,368 a year. Even on the low end, that is a good salary in the vast majority of countries in the world.

Toptal’s Clients Are More Prestigious

When comparing Upwork vs Toptal, we aren’t saying that Upwork doesn’t have prestigious clients too. Big-name clients that Upwork has worked with include companies like Microsoft, Airbnb, Bissel and GoDaddy. However, Toptal is unique in that it actually vets its clients as well as its freelancers. According to Toptal’s website, only 5% of potential clients get approved for the platform. Clients are assessed on their budget, skills and their intent to hire.

Many of the big named clients Toptal works with value the quality of freelancers that Toptal is able to recruit during their vetting process. Some of the clients that Toptal works with include Hewlett Packard, Udemy, Shopify, and Motorola.

Toptal’s Projects Are Longer

When it comes to average project length, it’s pretty safe to say that Toptal wins out in this area. Toptal reports that their average project length is 4 months. You read that right, their average. This means that a significant number of projects are longer than 4 months long.

Being able to take on long-term projects can make a huge difference in the level of financial stability a freelancer is able to achieve.

Upwork Has More Types Of Work

The work categories on Toptal are actually pretty limited when compared with the categories on Upwork. Upwork has 14 main categories, ranging from accounting to design to engineering, with pretty much everything in between. By contrast, Toptal only has 5 categories of work: developer, designer, finance expert or management consultant, project manager or product manager. Even within those categories, their scope of work is more limited than Upwork. The designer category, for example, focuses on fields like UX or UI design. Upwork, by contrast, includes many more niches.

Toptal probably isn’t a relevant platform for the majority of freelancers out there because of this specialization. However, if you are experienced and work in one of the fields Toptal features on their platform, you will likely benefit from this exclusivity.

Toptal’s Staff Directly Matches Freelancers & Clients

This is one of the other features that makes Toptal very unique among its competitors. Toptal employees are directly involved in connecting freelancers with clients. Upwork recruiters, by contrast, will only reach out to you if you are top rated talent.

Which approach is better for you depends largely on what you want. There is a lot of appeal in having staff so heavily involved in connecting freelancers with jobs. It could mean less overall work for you in your search for clients.

On the other hand, many freelancers might prefer to be more in control of the connections they are making. By applying to jobs directly, you have more of a chance to affect your workload and target people who are a good match for you.

Toptal’s Customer Service Wins Out

One of the consistent complaints you will see in reviews of Upwork is that customer service is hard to contact and generally unhelpful. With Toptal, the staff is constantly involved in facilitating connections. You will talk to staff members directly during the vetting process in live interviews. Toptal’s focus on quality service means that they are much more responsive if problems do arise.

English Is Not A Requirement For Upwork

Toptal has decided that English is the language of their platform. They make sure that all freelancers on it have a good command of the language as a part of the vetting process.

The first part of their vetting process involves a live interview where a Toptal staff member will assess your communication and language skills. Only 26.4% of applicants make it past this stage. It is actually the point at which the vast majority of applications get eliminated from consideration.

Now, if you struggle a lot with English you will be at a competitive disadvantage on Upwork. The reality is that most of the work on Upwork happens in English. Some clients may be unwilling to work with freelancers who only have a basic mastery of English. For certain types of work, like translation or writing, it isn’t uncommon to find native-level fluency as a requirement. Still, it is possible to connect with clients who are happy with a low level of English knowledge.

Upwork vs Toptal: The Similarities

Both Platforms Are Good For Serious Freelancers

Upwork deals with a much wider range of freelancers than Toptal does. That being said, serious freelancers will fit right into both platforms. Both Toptal and Upwork create the opportunity for skilled freelancers to build significant income streams and even go full-time with their freelancing work.

Both Encourage Long-Term Projects

Upwork rewards its freelancers for big projects and repeat work by lowering their commission after you hit certain earning milestones with a client. They let you charge in a variety of ways, many of which lend to long-term stable work. For example, they let you set up retainer fees with clients. They also facilitate contracts with clients where they can pay per milestone hit. This allows you to take on longer-term work.

Similarly, Toptal boasts a 4-month average for projects. Focusing on facilitating long-term work is a huge appeal for most freelancers. After all, stability is one sacrifice that many freelancers are afraid to take on when going full-time. Long contracts provide an element of comfort and confidence in your income.

Which Platform Is Best For You?

If you can qualify for Toptal and make it through the competitive selection process, it will probably be worth it. After all, they offer high-pay, prestigious clients and a lot of support to their freelancers. However, just like with any freelancing platform, there is still quite a bit of competition. Just making it through the vetting process isn’t a guarantee for work. Some reviews of the platform complain about an unbalanced freelancer to client ratio that makes it hard to find jobs.

We’re going to be straight up here: Most of the people reading this article won’t make it past the Toptal vetting process. If you have no experience in a field or if your work just isn’t the kind Toptal deals in, there isn’t any point in applying. Toptal is absolutely not beginner-friendly, and that’s fine. It’s good even. Toptal’s target freelancer is someone who is experienced, confident, and working in a specific, high-paying niche.

If you are a beginner or work in a category Toptal doesn’t cover, Upwork can be an excellent option for you. Really, the amount you are able to earn on Upwork is only limited by your skills as a freelancer. Skills that you can continue to develop over time!

Free to Use
Application Required to Join Platform
Beginner Friendly
English Required
Good for Short Term Projects
Good for Long Term Projects
Wide Variety of Project Categories
High Quality Clients
High Quality Customer Service

Upwork Vs. Toptal: Bottom Line

With most of our other platform reviews, we’ve ended on the conclusion: why not both? However the reality with Upwork vs Toptal, is that Toptal is looking for a certain kind of profile. If you fit that profile and are willing to go through an extensive vetting process, the gains could be huge. However, if you don’t fit Toptal’s requirements for a freelancer, Upwork is going to be the obvious winner.

Honestly, it’s pretty likely that most of the freelancers on Toptal have already used Upwork at some point. After all, Upwork is a leader in the freelancing world, and Toptal only takes on experienced freelancers. Sure, there might be some freelancers who only worked directly with clients. There might even be a handful of people on Toptal that are coming straight out of the corporate world: new to freelancing, but experts in their fields.

If you are an experienced freelancer looking to transition onto Toptal, our advice would be to not burn any bridges until the work starts flowing in. Many Toptal reviews by freelancers complain of long hours of work, but others complain that there aren’t enough jobs for freelancers. You aren’t going to know what your experience is going to be like until you are in there. It’s always best to wait until you have fully established your next opportunity before closing the door on your previous clients and platforms.

If you don’t fit the profile for Toptal but aren’t sure about whether Upwork is the best option for you, consider checking out some of our other platform reviews. If you want more information about how to be successful in freelancing, download our FREE guide on how to start making $10k/month freelancing.

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