If you’re looking for the world’s best developer or project manager, Toptal can help you find them. It’s got its screening process down to a fine art, so you know you’re only looking at the top 3% of all freelance talent. Hiring the best doesn’t come cheap, but then sometimes you really do get what you pay for…
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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 said, there are 200 types of developer specialties alone, so if you’re looking for someone with a super-specific niche, this is the place for you.
While Toptal claims to be the best in the world, it doesn’t come cheap. And although that’s because it 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.
It’s not a budget option by any means. But if like me, you’ve hired cheap freelancers in the past and not got exactly what you bargained for, you know that you often get what you pay for. If you’re ready to invest in your business and the people you hire, then Toptal may well be the answer.
Rigorous 5-Week Screening Process
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.
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’ve got the full two weeks to decide whether the initial freelancer is a good fit without being 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 another two-week trial.
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, you’re almost sure to find 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 takes 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.
Ease of use
Toptal Keeps Things Simple, but In Its Own Unique Way
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, and that’s not a bad thing, as long as you don’t mind picking up the phone.
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 approach.
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.
Need 24/7 Support and Live Chat? No Chance
For a freelance platform that claims to have the top developers in its network, Toptal’s customer support page and system are 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 inquiries), 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”, or to use the contact form for all other inquiries. 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 – a friendly response from Nina to say my question had been sent to the right department who would be in touch soon.
I waited just half an hour more for someone to contact me, and got a detailed and helpful response, this time from Michal.
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 freelancer 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 are not how Toptal does things. But they were quick and efficient at replying to my email query.
Getting the Best Doesn’t Come Cheap
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. That said, there are no other fees, so if you can make that initial investment, there’s little risk.
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 (or at least, pretty intensively vetted freelancers). 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).
Plus 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.
If you’re looking for an exceptional developer or project manager, Toptal can help you find them. It’s got its screening process down to a fine art, and while it doesn’t offer the same prices as some of the competition, that’s not Toptal’s agenda. It’s not trying to be cheap, because the top 3% of freelancers in the world are going to come at a price. But think how quickly and how well they’ll get the job done – and how much money that will save you in the long run.The process may feel antiquated, but if you’ve got the time and money and want experienced, high-quality, specialists, the Toptal team is on hand to help you out.
How much does Toptal cost?
Toptal is free to sign up to. There is a refundable $500 deposit required when Toptal starts searching for you, just to make sure you’re invested, but if it doesn’t go to plan, that $500 will come straight back to you. And if it does go well, it’s added as credit to your account to pay your freelancer.
Prices start at around $60 per hour for a freelancer but remember you’re getting top-tier talent. The right freelancer could save you time and money in the future. Other than your freelancer’s rate, there are no other Toptal fees.
Is Toptal better than Fiverr?
Toptal and Fiverr are two very different freelance websites so it’s hard to compare them directly. If you’re on a tight budget and want to turn things around very quickly for a short-term project, Fiverr is your best bet. However, if you want to establish a long-term relationship with a freelancer who is highly skilled, especially in a niche area, Toptal is my recommendation.
Is Toptal legitimate?
Yes, Toptal is a very real, very legitimate freelance website where you can hire high-end, high-quality freelancers. Its clients include Shopify, Duolingo, and Gucci, and if it’s good enough for Gucci, I’m sold.
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.
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Be Warned About Toptal Data Collection Tricks
I don't know whether Toptal is legit or not. But my experience as a user who tried to register is that they are using some scammy tactics to collect user data and CVs. If you try to sign up, they collect some data from you including your image and CV. Then they say your application is 100% complete.
Until this moment, you think you are done with registration. But NOT. After you complete 100% of your application, they say you need to record a 2 minutes intro video in order for them to accept you, which most users don't prefer.
If you decide, not to move forward after this, there is no way you can delete your CV or crucial data they collected.
Very unprofessional. They can't even express the fact that they're only interested in developers. If you specialize in anything else, they'll tell you that your work is not good enough, just because they don't know anything outside of their narrow scope of projects. The fun part - they'll make you work for them for free, as if they are testing your skills. Then they'll tell you that you didn't meet their expectations, on Friday. Who does that? Oh, and they never told you about their expectations in the first place. Even if you ask and they respond, it will still be some kind of new set of expectations that you didn't meet. I've never had to deal with such an unprofessional agency in my 20 years of experience, working with the world's most well-known brands.
I signed up, passed the test, passed the two-week sample project and everything seemed great. Unfortunately, the jobs that were available were mostly uninteresting to me. I did apply for a few jobs and had a couple of interviews; in one case, the job was advertised as part-time but the client rejected me because I would not commit to 7-day-per-week availability. In the other case, I rejected the job after I found out it was on Windows (I do only Linux/UNIX), which was not mentioned in the job description.
Toptal's screening process is impressive, but I think they have too many freelancers and not enough work, so it's difficult or impossible to get much work viat Toptal.
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.