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Toptal vs Upwork vs Upstack

Toptal vs. UpWork vs. UpStack: An In-depth Comparison

Freelance developers and software experts are always in high demand. Because of this companies are looking for the best freelance websites to continually find reliable talent.

Toptal, UpWork, and UpStack are three of the most reliable and coveted freelance platforms out there to find developers. In this article, we’ll be comparing the three websites and see how they each match up to help you decide which is the best option for your business.

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Comparison of the Best Freelance Websites for Developers

Websites to Find Freelance Developers Overview

Best ForElite software developersCost-effective freelancers with the widest variety of skillsets and specialtiesElite talent in several categories: developers, designers, finance experts, project/product managers
Typical Project Ideally 6+ months and longer term projectsGood for short term projects and tasks Long term or speciality projects
Talent Specialties Elite developers, software engineers, and architects. All programming languages, but known for great pool of React.js talent.All levels and kinds of developers, designers, and engineers. Many specialty/niche skills. Elite software developers, designers, finance experts, product managers, and project managers
VettingRigorous 8 point hiring process to ensure their top tier communication, personality and tech skills.You must vet yourself, but some profiles earn 'talent badges' for good reviews and feedback.In-depth 5-week screening process. Only the top 3% are accepted. Toptal matches you with talent.
GauranteeNo commitment required. 14-day risk-free trial.No-risk trial period. Work with talent first before deciding to proceed14-day risk-free trial. Only billed if you're satisfied
BudgetRequires $12-15k monthly budgetNo minimum budget $500 deposit, pay talent hourly (varies widely, but starts at $60/hour)
Visit Upstack
Visit Upwork
Visit Toptal

An Introduction

Each of these three sites offers an extensive list of reliable freelance developers. Each aims to provide the best software engineering and developer talent to companies regardless of scale.

There are, however, key differences between each site. So the question remains: when it comes to choosing the right one for your business, which one is the best?

To help you decide, we’ll be looking at each of these three sites to see how they work, their features, and their pros and cons. Let’s dive in.


Freelance Websites for Developers - Toptal

Toptal is known for its incredibly reliable talent pool. Their site boldly proclaims to house the “top 3%” of developer talent. Toptal offers experts in anything from developers to project managers and works with each user to pair them with the right talent.

How Toptal Works

Toptal hires their freelancers by putting them through a 5-step recruitment test that starts with a language and personality test and ends with various test projects. This whittles the talent pool to the best of the best developers and managers out there.

Toptal users start by talking with one of Toptal’s industry experts to discuss goals, expectations, and needs. You’ll be matched with a freelance talent based on that discussion in a matter of days.

You can then work with your assigned freelancer and pay them once the project is done to satisfaction. If they’re not the right fit, you can request another freelancer from Toptal as well.

To learn more check out our Toptal review.

Toptal Features

Toptal has a large pool of qualified freelancers experienced in the following disciplines:

  • Development (iOS, Java, Python, R, JavaScript, etc.)
  • Design (Adobe Illustrator, Android, brand development, data visualization, etc.)
  • Finance
  • Project Management
  • Product Management

Toptal connects you with a freelancer within 48 hours after your initial consultation with one of their industry experts. You can scale your needs based on your business goals, and choose to pay your freelancers hourly or full-time salary.

Toptal Pros

  • Polished Hiring Process: You’ll be matched with a freelancer without any work on your part.
  • Quick Matching: Users will find a freelancer in less than 48 hours.
  • No-Risk Trial: You get two weeks to test out a freelancer before deciding to stick with them.
  • Top Talent: You can’t go wrong with the “top 3% talent,” as you’ll get quality work no matter who you’re paired with.

Toptal Cons

  • Higher Rates: The talented workforce usually comes with slightly higher hourly rates.
  • Initial Fee: You have to pay a $500 down payment for using Toptal’s services before paying freelancers.
  • Smaller Pool: There isn’t as big of a talent pool compared to other services because of the heavy vetting process.


Freelance Websites for Developers - UpWork

Upwork, formerly known as Odesk, is a popular freelancing site for web developers and mobile app programmers, among many other types of freelancing services. You can either look through Upwork’s list of freelancers or put up a project and receive bids from top candidates.

How Upwork Works

You can find a freelancer on Upwork in a few different ways.

The first is through a bidding process. You post a project on their engine and allow different freelancers to send in their samples as proposals. You can choose among these candidates to make a hire.

Alternatively, you can look through Upwork’s list of pre-scoped projects and buy ones that fit your goals. Upwork also has a talent scout option that finds talent based on your needs.

Upwork Features

You can find a variety of different work and talent on Upwork. Different freelancing services include:

  • Development and IT
  • Design and Creative
  • Marketing
  • Writing and Translation
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Administrative Support

Upwork also lets you view each freelancers’ candidate profiles to view their portfolio and make more detailed decisions. You can manage all your projects on their dedicated portals.

Upwork Pros

  • Big Marketplace: Upwork has a larger talent pool than other options, meaning you won’t be lacking any choices when it comes to choosing freelancers.
  • Small Starting Fees: Posting jobs on Upwork is free, and you only pay a 3% user fee. If you want detailed hiring tools, you will need to upgrade your account and pay a monthly fee though.
  • Dedicated Dashboard: Upwork has an intuitive user interface for finding, hiring, and managing freelancers. You can post a job and have applicants in minutes.
  • Wide Pricing Range: The bidding system and other features allow for greater pricing flexibility.

Upwork Cons

  • Subpar Vetting: The larger talent pool comes with some unreliable candidates since the vetting process falls mainly on the hiring manager. This can be time-consuming and risky, especially if you don't know what to look for.
  • Big Freelancer Fees: Freelancers have to pay a large revenue fee, meaning some top candidates might skip Upwork altogether.
  • Paywalls: Features like email support and no-risk trials are locked behind paywalls.
  • Wide Pricing Range: Although this is a pro to some, it can be challenging for new hiring managers that aren't familiar with industry pay averages.
  • Can kind of feel like the “Wild, Wild West”, vulnerable to scams.


Best Freelance Websites for Developers - Upstack

UpStack is a leading remote tech freelancing platform looking to elevate teams worldwide through dedicated freelance talent. They look for the best freelance talent by sourcing their developers from all over the world.

How UpStack Works

Similar to Toptal, UpStack has a heavy vetting process in which candidates go through a 6-step test to be hired as a freelancer on the site. This includes coding challenges and other screening reviews.

UpStack users will be paired with a dedicated account manager who will then take note of your business’s needs and goals. They’ll find freelancers that match those requirements, at which point you’ll have a risk-free trial period to test out your new remote team.

UpStack Features

UpStack proudly claims to hire the top 1% of talent from around the world. Their heavy vetting process courts candidates from Eastern Europe all the way to South America. Their freelancers are experienced in virtually every programming language and technology stack.

Some of the common codes UpStack freelancers are proficient in are:

UpStack also uses a sophisticated AI system to match you with the right freelance candidate. They also regularly offer discounts for remote companies finding their footing.

To learn more, check out our UpStack review.

UpStack Pros

  • Great Talent Pool: UpStack’s “top 1%” talent is hard to come by, and the results speak for themselves.
  • Quick Recruitment: It takes up to 3 days to be matched with the right freelance talent, saving you time.
  • Focus: UpStack is solely focused on pairing businesses with freelance developers.
  • Free Trial: UpStack offers a generous 14-day free trial with each candidate.
  • Customer Support: Their 24/7 customer support is reliable and very helpful.

UpStack Cons

  • Development Model: UpStack isn't really great for short-term or gig-based work. It's more for companies looking for on-going development needs.
  • Focus: UpStack is solely focused on pairing businesses with freelance developers.
  • Upfront Deposit: UpStack requires a $399 deposit for using their services.
  • Higher Rates: Each freelancer is more expensive than on other platforms because of their skills.
  • Time Zones: Some freelancers might be hard to reach because of time zone differences.

Toptal vs Upwork vs Upstack

Price Comparison

On the surface, Upwork is definitely the cheapest option. They have a 3% service fee, as opposed to Toptal and UpStack which make their money on hourly margins. Their freelancers are typically cheaper by the hour than other sites as well.

Toptal is definitely the most expensive option because of their $499 service fees. UpStack is slightly cheaper but their talent still costs more by the hour than other freelance development sites like Upwork.

Talent Comparison

It’s hard to judge how accurate UpStack’s and Toptal’s “top 1%” or “top 3%” claims really are. Nevertheless, the quality of their freelancers can’t be understated. Many of the freelancers come from enterprise-level backgrounds and have worked with leading companies like Microsoft, IBM, Toyota, McDonald's, and more.

You truly get what you pay for with those two, meaning their talent is relatively even since both platforms employ a strict vetting process. If you’re looking for top talent, you can choose UpStack or Toptal interchangeably. The big difference will come down to the type of freelancer you're looking for. UpStack is solely focused on developers, whereas Toptal offers graphic designers,

Job Category Comparison

Toptal and Upwork have the most variety in terms of categories of work.

Upwork definitely has the advantage if you're looking for very specific skills. For example, if you need someone that has experience working with a specific plugin or software, you can add that as a requirement in your post, or drill down to the best candidates with that as a specification in search.

UpStack definitely has the edge when it comes to developers because that is their bread and butter. But that's not to say that you can't find a good quality developer on Upwork and UpStack, it might just take a little more research and time to get in front of the best possible person.

Which One is the Best?

We’ve outlined each of these three platforms and their pros and cons – now it’s time to decide which is the right one for you

If You’re Looking for the Most Cost-Effective Option…

Upwork is going to be your best bet if you're looking to save on upfront costs.

You compromise some quality for better pricing with Upwork, but that doesn’t mean their freelancers are incompetent. You can get plenty of great work out of their candidates. Just know that it's a bit of a process to get the right person. Carefully screen freelancers on Upwork, and, if possible, delegate 1-2 small tasks before really opening up the floodgates.

One caveat to consider, however, is the cost of your time. How many hours are you going to need to put into reviewing proposals? Do you know what the average hourly rate is for the type of freelancer you're looking to hire? Will you be able to hop on multiple Zoom calls to interview freelancers? What happens if the freelancer flakes out and disappears off the face of the earth after 1-week of working with them?

These are types of questions that you'll need to take into consideration. While Upwork on the frontend is more cost-effective, it can get expensive from a management perspective. Both Toptal and UpStack respectively take a lot of the legwork and guesswork out of the freelance hiring process. And this actually ends up saving a lot of time and money in the long run.

If You’re Looking for the Best Possible Talent…

Companies looking for the best freelancing talent money can buy should look at Toptal. Their vetting process combined with their excellent track record puts them at the top in terms of talent.

If you are looking for the best developers, UpStack is the best Toptal alternative.

If You’re Looking for Diverse Skill Sets…

Upwork and Toptal have the most diverse skills and jobs to choose from.

If you have a tighter budget but need a diverse talent pool experienced in all kinds of business needs, UpWork might be the move. If you’re willing to spend a little more, then Toptal gives you a wide range of available talent across dozens of disciplines.

Leverage Top Freelancing Platforms Today

Companies can find reliable freelance developer talent if they know where to look. Toptal, UpWork, and UpStack are three of the best sites out there. Use this article to find the best option for your business and reap the benefits of reliable freelance talent today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Toptal better than Upwork?

While Toptal and Upwork are both technically freelance websites, they work very differently. Toptal is much more suited for finding top talent and is more vigorous with their screening process, especially technical talent like programmers. Upwork is more of a general, open marketplace. Upwork has more freelancers on their platform, but because a lot of the screening falls on the shoulders of the hiring managers, it is more susceptible to bad experiences and scams. Both websites are legit and serve their own unique purpose.