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If you’re looking for the world’s best developer or project manager, Toptal can probably help you find them. It’s got its screening process down to a fine art but it’s still got some serious limitations that you need to know about. I’d recommend you take a look at Fiverr Pro with its large selection of higher quality freelancers.
Is Toptal the Real Deal?
Toptal pitches itself as a global network of world-class talent – yep, it’s pretty confident. Of the 100,000 or so people who apply each year to join Toptal as freelancers, apparently only 3% make the cut.
You can only hire developers, designers, finance experts, project managers, and product managers. That’s it; that’s the offering. Now I don’t need to tell you that’s a pretty limited number of job titles. Sure, there are many different types of designers out there, but where are the strategists or the HR consultants? And hey, where are the writers?
While Toptal claims to be the best in the world, it doesn’t come cheap. When a company says it’s got THE best freelancers, I can understand why you’d be skeptical – I was, too.
So I decided to take Toptal for a spin. I checked out its customer support, its pricing, and the features it wants you to pay for, so you won’t spend a dime without knowing what you’re getting into.
If you’re on a budget, or if you’re looking for someone who’s not a designer or developer, don’t scroll any further. Toptal isn’t going to be the fit right for you. Instead, I used to not recommend Fiverr because you weren’t always guaranteed quality work.But when you hire a freelancer through Fiverr Pro you are guaranteed top-quality work. And on Fiverr, you can find everyone from podcast editors to astrologists for those one-time gigs. Toptal wants you to develop long-term relationships with your freelancers, so if you just need someone for an ad hoc project, Fiverr is the solution.
The freelancers you’re matched with on Toptal have been on one hell of a journey to get to you. Before a freelancer gets anywhere near a client, they go through a rigorous screening process. There are five steps and it can take up to five weeks to make it all the way.
If a freelancer doesn’t make it through round one, they can say goodbye to Toptal. Pass every round, and they’re in. Think of it like the X Factor of the professional world… but without the live shows… or multi-million-dollar record deal.
So, what are the five steps?
Language and Personality – a comprehensive English language and communication evaluation
In-Depth Skill Review – a test of an applicant’s technical knowledge and problem-solving ability
Live Screening – an interview by Toptal screeners including live exercises
Test Projects – candidates are assigned a test project that can take 1-3 weeks to complete
Continued Excellence – A Toptal freelancer must maintain a high standard of work to remain in the network, so every assignment is essentially another test
And there you have it, only the top 3% make it through, so you can rest assured any freelancers Toptal matches you with are very experienced in their field. Each successful applicant has their own LinkedIn-style profile where you can see their previous work, their experience, and whether they’re available now.
But you won’t have to sift through hundreds of profiles because Toptal can do the matching up for you; that’s what it does best. So tell it what you want, sit back, and let it send you a shortlist of candidates.
Every time you start working with a new freelancer, Toptal gives you a trial period of up to two weeks to decide whether it’s a successful match for you. If you’re not completely satisfied, you won’t be billed for the time and you can move on to the next match. You can even continue to work with the initial freelancer until the end of the trial and still not be billed for it.
Then, it’s up to you whether you want to call it a day or ask Toptal to find you more matches. Once it finds you another freelancer, you start a two-week trial again.
Hundreds of Specific Skills to Choose From
Although Toptal only has five main freelancer categories – designers, developers, finance experts, product managers, and project managers – each category is broken down further into specialties. If you click through to see the skills directory, you’ll find more than 200 types of developers alone.
From Uber Developers to Chrome Extension Developers, there’s probably a freelancer with a niche that will fit your criteria. And if you don’t see what you’re looking for, you can schedule a call with one of the team and they’ll start the search for you. Toptal says it can take between one and three weeks to locate, screen, and take on a new expert with confidence.
Speedy and Efficient Matching
With its slightly unusual callback system, Toptal aims to match you to the right freelancer within 48 hours of your call. And thanks to its highly selective process, it reports a 98% success rate from trial to hire. So if it’s crunch time and you’re in desperate need of extra resources quickly, this is a good platform to use.See full list of features
Ease of use
Toptal keeps everything as simple as possible. But it’s a little different from the other platforms out there because it basically does all the work for you. Below are some of the ways Toptal manages the recruitment process.
It All Starts with a Phone Call
The whole Toptal process is centered around requesting a callback and speaking to Toptal staff over the phone. Already, that makes it a very different system to most platforms out there.
To set up the call, all you need to do is click Hire Top Talent and answer a series of simple questions about the skills you’re looking for, the length of the project, and your budget.
Eventually, you’ll land on a contact page where you’ll enter your details and request a callback. You can choose a time and day or request a callback “Now”. You can pick a callback from 7.30am to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday, in your chosen time zone. Within 10 minutes I got an email confirming the details of my callback with a member of the Toptal Team.
If dealing with this kind of thing over the phone isn’t your style and you’d rather just sort it out online, Toptal probably isn’t going to be the platform for you. But talking about your needs over the phone with a Toptal recruiter allows them to ask you all the important questions and discuss your brief, guidelines, and deal breakers. If you’re looking for a long-term contractor, you’re probably more likely to get the right freelancer with this format.
Once you’ve had your call, you’ll get a status report and then the matches, if there are any, will start rolling in. And if there aren’t any matches, the team will ‘work tirelessly’ to find you one.
Extensive User Profiles
Your Toptal recruiter will do most of the hard work for you by finding and sending over the best matches, but you can still search through the results and learn A LOT about each freelancer. Every candidate has an in-depth, CV-style profile featuring a bio, education, skills, certifications, employment history, location, and project highlights.
Plus, a Mobile App That Misses the Mark
There’s also a mobile app so you can track different freelancers and see their profiles, but considering Toptal claims to be an expert in hiring developers, the app leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t support iPad resolution and there’s no iOS version either. It’s a poor show for its image and even after customer complaints, there are no plans to fix these problems either. They could do with hiring a freelancer for that…See if Toptal is Right for You
Need 24/7 Support and Live Chat? No Chance
For a freelance platform that claims to have the top developers in its network, its customer support page and system is pretty basic.
There’s a straightforward FAQ page (but with only 18 questions and answers), a mailing address for its Delaware, San Francisco, and New York offices, a phone number (but only for sales enquiries), and a simple contact form to fill in. There’s no information on opening hours and no live chat, so if speed is what you’re looking for, you’re not going to get it here.
The support page says tocall the sales line or email customer support for “immediate assistance”, otherwise use the contact form for all other enquiries. To test the response time, I sent an inquiry to the email address and through the contact form.
I asked if they could give me approximate costs for a designer who specializes in chatbots for a short term project. As promised, I got a quick response in just four minutes… but it wasn’t what I had hoped for. Not quite an automated email, but a friendly response from Nina to say my question had been sent onto the right department who would be in touch soon.
I waited another half an hour for someone to contact me, and got a detailed and helpful response, this time from Michal.
The actual response to my query wasn’t immediate but the follow-up email was, so if you can afford to wait a little longer, you’ll get a helpful response.
Michal took the opportunity to tell me more about Toptal, and thankfully within the rest of the info, I found the answer to my question, plus some added extras. Michal gave me the average price for the type of freelance I was looking to hire, told me about their process and mentioned that prices vary depending on the location of the freelancer – a piece of information I wasn’t able to find on the website which was useful to know.
If you want an ‘immediate’ response, you’re unlikely to get it from Toptal – live chat and 24/7 customer support is not how Toptal do things, but they were quick and efficient at replying to my email query.
I did, however, also send two queries through the contact form on their website and got a mixed response. One was answered and one was not, which may have been a technical glitch, but who knows?
Fiverr, on the other hand,has an in-depth and useful help center, while Freelancer.com offers live chat and 24/7 support. Toptal just can’t compete with that.
Getting the Best Doesn’t Come Cheap… at All.
Toptal requires an initial deposit of $500, which gets applied as credit to your first invoice. If you decide not to move forward with any freelancers then that deposit is 100% refunded. Helpful if you want to see if the system will work for you, but a fairly large upfront cost for small businesses.
And then that’s it, going forward you just pay for your freelance resource with no recruitment fee. But what are the freelancer rates?
Now here’s where you’ve got some serious weighing up to do. You’ve got to remember that Toptal is offering the BEST (supposedly). And the best in the world isn’t going to come cheap. Every freelancer comes with a high price tag – but if the screening process is as good as Toptal says it is, hopefully they’ll be worth every cent. Real experts may be more efficient and potentially cost you less in the long run.
Toptal offers a handy pricing table as a guide, but the prices vary immensely – from $60 an hour for a developer, up to as much as $8,000 a week for a full-time finance expert (yeah, I think I’m in the wrong job too).
That said, paying more doesn’t always get you more. Take Fiverr Pro for example. When we put it to the test, we found that paying more for logo design, didn’t mean we got better results. In fact, the results were quite surprising (in a good way!). You can see how we got on with it here:
Back with Toptal, and there’s that two-week, no-risk trial I mentioned in the Features section, so if you’re not happy, you don’t pay, which is reassuring when there’s a lot of money at stake.
You can hire freelancers on an hourly basis, per day, per project, part time, or full time.
You’ll be billed twice a month, but Toptal says it can be flexible, which is refreshing for a platform like this and super helpful for smaller businesses – plus, you’re able to review all charges before they’re processed. It issues every invoice with Net 10 payment terms (i.e. the full payment is due within 10 days of the invoice being issued). It might be a quick turnaround for you, but it’ll keep your freelancers sweet.
It accepts all major credit cards, ACH payments, bank wires, and PayPal.
Toptal Product Manager Screening process? A joke (and a waste of time)
I am a Product Manager that thought working for Toptal would have exposed me to an interesting project. I passed without any problem first stage and then landed on the test: a disaster. The test started without telling that it actually started, the interface was very poor, time was barely enough to read the question, sometimes written in an ineffective way. The questions were built for an US audience and not for an International Audience (or nonnative language speaker...). All the questions were around Product Marketing, and not Product Management, as expected. Plus, the few info Toptal provided in advance to me were completely misleading. The screening process was more a race rather than a reall attempt to understand something from the candidate. At the end of the day, PMs are asked to be responsible and accountable for their decisions, so, they must understand before talking. I complained to them about the above, they replied with a standard answer. Their election process could be good for other disciplines, but IMHO, they have a lot to improve for the Porduct management process. Maybe the PM who cared for the PM interview process was one of their "top 3%"? Toptal: I will never spend a second again for them.
I’m a start-up CEO and my TopTal experience started really well, I even paid the $500 deposit. Then things went downhill from there. Their fees are very high. We found a product manager we liked and his fee was $130/hour. They wouldn’t negotiate and the staffers became rude and condescending as soon as he realized we weren’t ready to just fork out full price. They also sold me on a 2-week trial period before I paid the deposit, but then reduced it to 1 day!!!! because I only wanted a 6-week project. I’m sure their talent is pretty good but they are out for the money and are not set up to be flexible or work with smaller budgets. I find this extremely short-sighted tbh because start-ups will grow up one day and TopTal should be looking to build long-term relationships.
Don't work with these guys. I was snubbed based on my expertise level. I was under the impression that my work was not good enough even though I've worked on well known brands. Your better off working with a talent agency that will support you.
I had an unpleasant experience with TopTal. Only after signing up, signing the agreement and providing payment info, they indicated that they do not have a 2 week trial period, it's only 3 days. Some may say this isn't a big deal, but from my experience teams that set up processes for less than upfront communication are typically hiding larger problems. Finally, when I told the sales guy that I was not happy and asked for them to delete my bank info, he lied and said he'd done it. Sort of stupid to tell a customer anything verifiably false. I recommend you consider other sources of talent.
If you’re looking for an exceptional developer or project manager, Toptal can probably help you find them. It’s got its screening process down to a fine art but it’s still no match for the competition. The process is antiquated, the job roles you can search for are limited, and you’ve got to be willing to put all your trust in the Toptal team.
Toptal needs to up its game with support, and expand its network to include more freelance professions. It’s got potential, but is it in the top 3% of freelance platforms out there? I don’t think so. If you want access to a truly global network of freelancers in every job role you can think of, I’d check out our review of Fiverr.
Emily Adams is a freelance writer and editor with a background in content marketing. She's done a bit of everything, working across social, print, digital and email campaigns for a number of clients from Skyscanner to American Express.