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23 min read Author: Arjun

Toptal vs Upwork vs EliteBrains: 2024 Update

Toptal vs Upwork vs EliteBrains - understand the differences between top freelancing platforms and find the best fit for your needs.

Toptal vs Upwork vs EliteBrains

Which marketplace is great for finding talented freelancers fast and incredibly easy to use? If you are a startup founder, technical recruiter, hiring manager or anyone else looking for top-notch engineers, keep reading. In this post, we'll compare the features of Toptal, Upwork, and EliteBrains. Then, we'll break down the pros and cons of each service so you can find out which one is best for you!

If you're a freelancer looking to decide which freelance marketplace to sign up for in order to start offering services to companies, consider reading the article 'Which Platform Is the Best for Freelancers' instead.

Our quest for finding the best freelancing site begins with a question (all too familiar you've probably asked): 

“Where can I find top freelance developers online?”

This question is on a lot of people's minds. And justifiably so. Finding top freelancers online is not an easy task; it's a very time-consuming and demanding process that requires you to be very selective, especially if you're looking for a very specific skill or skill set.

Take the nightmarish story of a talented and ambitious product manager we talked to recently. He failed miserably at his attempt of finding top developers for his startup. What happened? The following:

  • The first freelancer he tried to work with didn't deliver anything substantial in the end and was too expensive to boot. Then disappeared and stopped responding altogether, even when he tried to contact him again.
  • Increasing his budget and "buying" dozens of developers from "top tier freelancing sites" didn't get him anywhere. He ended up wasting months and thousands of dollars. 
  • The entire experience was frustrating: deadlines were missed, codes turned out to be copied, and the whole process seemed cumbersome.

This story is an all too common one in today's online marketplace.

It's the perfect storm: there are too many developers vying for the same jobs, and most of them are not top-notch.

But behind all that, there is a bigger problem:

Freelance marketplaces are not designed to successfully connect top-tier freelancers with startups and other small businesses.

This is what we're going to change today. We're going to review and compare three major players: Toptal, Upwork, and EliteBrains.

Our goal is simple: we are going to review each of these three platforms separately, and at the end draw some final conclusions. 

Without further ado - let's get started!


Taso du Val and Breanden Beneschott founded Toptal in 2010 and it has quickly gained in popularity. It is not (and doesn't claim to be) an oasis of generalists, but instead, it is a place for matching clients with high-caliber freelancers, who are selected by Toptal's curation system.

Toptal's Freelance search features:

Toptal's portfolio of freelancers consists of very talented people from all over the world. That said, Toptal is selective in who it accepts to its platform and you can't just sign up for a Toptal account and start hiring talent right away - they have an application process, and here is how it works:

  • First off, you sign up and submit a job request.
  • Toptal jumps on a call with you after reviewing your job requirements to better understand your needs and go over the project details.
  • Next, you'll be matched with the right Toptal freelancer for your project.
  • The client gets to select a suitable candidate after interviewing them.
  • An initial refundable deposit of $500 is made and the project begins. If you're not satisfied with the results within the first 2 weeks (free trial period), you get the money refunded.

Pricing plans: 

This includes Per hour, per day, per project, or fixed fee

Billing Methods:

Escrow is the payment method used to secure freelancer invoices.

Types of freelancers you can find on Toptal:

  • Front-end developers
  • Mobile app developers
  • Designers (UX/UI)
  • Project Managers
  • Backend developers.

Pros of using Toptal to hire freelancers:

Top talent - they have many talented freelancers, so finding the right candidate for your project is easy.

Vetted candidates - every candidate goes through a 4-phase vetting process, which ensures they have the necessary skills and experience. Toptal is very selective of the people they let on their platform; this ensures that you work with only high-caliber and highly skilled freelancers. When hiring developers, it is crucial to evaluate their skills. Different companies use different approaches but one of the most popular and reliable ways is using coding tests. Coding tests consist of multiple types and the goal is to screen candidates skills on different levels such as programming skills, theory knowledge, algorythmic thinking and others. EliteBrains is running its own coding test platform which you can use as a SaaS. To give you a better idea of how suchs coding test can look like, check the EliteBrains Coding Tests.

Easily accessible customer support - you can email and chat with customer support to get your issues addressed.

Very detailed job proposals and requirements - Toptal is very detailed in trying to match you with the right freelancer and understand your needs. They ask for your job proposal and project requirements in great detail so they can better understand your needs and make sure they send you the right candidate.

Zero-risk guarantee - There is a 2 weeks trial period, after which if you're not satisfied with the results, you get your money back.

Cons of using Toptal to hire freelancers:

Ultra high rates - some clients feel that they are overpaying for their services. Paying $500 upfront seems like too much. For startups and bootstrap companies this is a lot of money and they can't afford to pay it.

Not the most flexible hiring structure - adapting hiring contracts to the needs of clients is something that Toptal needs to work on. Currently, when you hire a freelancer from Toptal, the contract options are limited to only 20 or 40 hours/week contracts which are not always in the best interest of clients. Surely you want to have the ability to hire a freelancer for a short period of time or increase the number of hours as your project requires should you need to.

Poor Transparency - clients sometimes feel that they cannot see the whole process especially as it relates to fees. It is difficult to tell how much you'll be charged from the onset. It makes planning and budgeting hard.

Not the most suitable for small projects - if you're looking for a freelancer to work on small projects, then Toptal is not the best option. The value you get for the price you pay is not worth it.

The talent pool is relatively limited - compared to other freelancing platforms, the talent pool of Toptal is relatively small. Your options in terms of the types of freelancers you can get on your project are relatively limited.


Upwork is a platform that was created from the merger of two major players: Elance and Odesk. Elance was originally created in 1998, oDesk in 2003. In 2013, the two merged to become Elance-oDesk. And rebranded in 2015 to Upwork.

The idea behind the name change is to emphasize that Upwork serves both clients and freelancers equally, which they hope will help them grow their market share.

Today, Upwork is considered one of the biggest freelancing platforms out there with over 18 million registered freelancers and 5 million clients.

Upwork's Freelancer search features

If you plan to use Upwork to hire freelancers, you should really get familiar with how it works. Unlike Toptal, it is an open marketplace so anyone can sign up to be a freelancer. 

These are the steps you need to follow: 

  • First, sign up and create a profile. 
  • As a client, you need to post a job description including the price range and the skills needed for that job.
  • Then start receiving bids from freelancers who will send you proposals with their hourly rates, experience, and portfolio. Alternatively, you can invite specific freelancers on the platform to apply to your job directly.
  • The next step is to interview the freelancers and pick the one you want to work with by getting them on a contract that includes the pay rate, the hours to work, and other terms. This is done via the platform.

Pricing plans

On Upwork, you can pay per hour, per project, or fixed-price.

Billing Methods: 

  • Escrow

Types of freelancers you can find on Upwork

The pool of talents is extremely diverse and practically endless.

  • Web developers 
  • Graphic designers 
  • Copywriters, translators, and editors 
  • Data scientists 
  • Mobile developers 
  • UX/UI designers 
  • Business consultants, coaches, and experts in many different fields
  • Many more.

Pros of using Upwork

Large talent pool: You can find freelancers from all over the world which is great if your project requires it. 

Great customer support: You can reach out to people any time of the day and they'll be there to assist you.

Milestones: Clients can set milestones which they can then review and pay for.

Affordability: Upwork is very affordable compared to other platforms in the sense that you can specify the price per hour or project and not pay anything more than that.

Tracking: Upwork makes it easy to track the progress of your project thanks to a time tracker application that records the time spent on your project by the freelancer.

Cons of using Upwork to hire freelancers: 

Probably, everyone is familiar with the frustrating process of hiring software engineers on Upwork. The freelancers are often lying in their profiles, claiming they are experienced with a technology they eventually barely know. Upwork provides different tools to filter the candidates, such as reviews of each freelancer, total earnings, total number of hours spent on clients' projects etc. While these tools are helpful, they are not a guarantee of the candidate's skills. To avoid spending money on hiring inexperienced engineers who might compromise your existing code, it's essential to ensure they possess the necessary skills and will perform well.

How to screen candidates on Upwork

To properly screen software engineers, the best way is to have them go through coding tests. If you are experienced with software engineering, you can create your own coding task. The easier and more reliable way is to use some SaaS platform like for example EliteBrains Coding Tests. You are able to create different types of tests where each test consists of one or multiple technologies. For example you can create a test named: “PHP Backend developer test” which will consist of PHP, MySQL, Laravel and other related technologies.

You can also define the level of desired experience and type of tests. EliteBrains provides multiple templates, usually consisting of both coding challenges (programming with automatically evaluated results) and a knowledge test with multiple-choice questions.. After the test is created you can easily invite candidates to it. You can have a look below at how the test for PHP looks like.

Generally said, the biggest con while hiring on Upwork is a lack of an extensive vetting process: The problem with Upwork is that anyone can register on the site and pretend to be a consultant or a developer. This means the quality of the freelancers is not guaranteed.

If you opt for Upwork Pro which offers contracts and arbitration, the rates are very high.

You have to put in a lot of effort in order to find a decent freelancer: The entire hiring process is up to you. This includes reviewing the bids, interviewing the freelancers, and setting up contracts. This can be a lot of work and time-consuming.


To give you a better idea, EliteBrains is a digital platform for sourcing, screening, and hiring software engineers. While reading this post, you are likely considering hiring developers, so let's take a closer look.

EliteBrains offers two options for hiring software engineers. The first option is to fill out the hire form, specifying the details of the candidate you are looking for. The EliteBrains team will then handle the sourcing, screening, and vetting of candidates. Typically, they provide you with 3-4 candidates fitting your role the most, saving you a considerable amount of time and effort. If you choose to hire any of the presented candidates, a platform fee of 15% is added on top of the candidate's rate. For example, if you hire a developer with a rate of $50/hour, you will end up paying $57.5/hour. You can define the details on “how it works” landing page or “pricing”.

The second option is to use the EliteBrains job board, where you can post unlimited jobs for free. This option is suitable for those experienced with recruiting engineers. You can post a job, wait until the candidates apply, and then unlock profiles of selected candidates - one unlocked profile costs as low as $14.90. Eventually, you can invite selected candidates to the coding tests in order to identify the best one. This way, you handle the hiring process on your own, which may take some time, but you ultimately save some money compared to the first method.

It's up to you to decide which option is best for your needs! If you are ready to start hiring engineers on your own, you can post a job for free here.

The idea of EliteBrains is to bring back control and power in the hands of hiring managers, CTOs, CROs, CEOs, and businesses/entrepreneurs who want to be safe in the knowledge that the freelancers they are hiring have been vetted and tested by experts.

A hybrid that combines the best aspects of Toptal and Upwork - the certainty of Toptal and the flexibility of Upwork. Thus making it the best alternative to Upwork and Toptal if you plan to hire freelancers.

EliteBrains's Freelancer search features

EliteBrains aims to be the best freelance marketplace designed to revolutionize the way employers search, interview, hire and manage their workforces. From web designers or app developers to full-stack engineers; it's easy to find the best candidates for your project with EliteBrains.

How EliteBrains works

  • If you haven't signed up yet, sign up now and you'll get a free account.
  • Submit a job description via an online form with details about your requirements and budget and the kind of freelancers you're looking for.
  • Your request would be reviewed by the EliteBrains team and they will find you the best freelancers out there that best fits your needs.
  • Once you've been matched with the best fit, you can commence work with them via the platform. EliteBrains allows you to try out the skills of the freelancer first (up to 8-hours) before making a final hiring decision. 
  • If you're satisfied with the freelancer's work, you can hire them and pay them through the platform. If you're not satisfied with the quality of work, you can discontinue working with them without any obligations or penalties.


  • Hourly rates begin from $30/hour.

Pros of hiring freelancers on EliteBrains

Freelancers are screened: All freelancers on the platform have been through a screening process where they have proven to be able to deliver high-quality work and have a strong focus on customer service. 

This is done via a 5-step vetting process. The company carries out tests in 5 areas: Code; Language and communication; Test of technology skills; Personality and reliability evaluation and finally a Testing project to prevent any potential risks for clients.

Zero-fees for hiring: There are no charges or commissions for clients. 

EliteBrains gathers the best software engineers: While most people would consider only the quality of freelancers, EliteBrains takes things one step further by finding out if they are a good fit for the client based on their personality and traits. This way, EliteBrains can assure clients that they are matched with the perfect freelancers for them out there.

The hiring process is simple: Freelancer applications are submitted via an online form which makes the hiring process easier. Extra efforts on your part such as interviewing freelancers or reviewing their portfolios do not necessarily need to be done.

EliteBrains is a hybrid: To ensure quality, many clients observe that flexibility is sacrificed in many of the top freelance marketplaces. Open marketplaces on the other hand provide flexibility but the quality of talents is questionable. EliteBrains helps solve this problem and put an end to the constant struggle of finding a balance between flexibility and quality by providing the best of both worlds. So, you can hire quickly and with confidence.

Great value for money: EliteBrains rates start from $30/hour. There are no hidden costs or upfront fees making it the most affordable option when it comes to hiring top-quality freelancers commensurate with the quality of work.

EliteBrains is easy to use: It's one platform for all your hiring needs - it provides everything you need to post a job, try out the freelancer's skills, hire and manage your freelancers.

Hire freelancers Risk-free: EliteBrains aims to revolutionize the way employers and freelancers meet and do business with each other. The idea is that we give every employer the opportunity to try out a freelancer's skills, without any risk or obligation. You can work with a very talented freelancer for up to 8-hours FREE. If you're not satisfied, you're simply not charged a cent.

Customer support: EliteBrains prides itself on being the company that provides the best customer support there is. The team consists of experts in their fields - developers, designers, project managers, and business developers. 

They're all here to support you through your hiring journey. So if you need any help or have a query, you can get in touch!

Cons of hiring freelancers on EliteBrains

it is not an open market: This can be seen as both a pro and con. While this ensures the quality of the freelancers, it also means that there's not much room for "variety" - different types of freelance talents and this might not fit everyone's needs. 

Toptal, Upwork or EliteBrains: Which one should you choose and why?

Decision time! 

Now that you're aware of Upwork, Toptal, and EliteBrains it's time to choose which one is right for you. 

Here are your options:

  • If you don't mind paying over the top for a freelancer, go with Toptal. 
  • If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to Toptal and could sacrifice time for money, ready to go through all the hoops of hiring a freelancer, and particularly interested in a top-notch developer, then Upwork is for you.
  • If you want to be dead sure about finding an elite freelancer ASAP, but don't want to pay a premium or deal with the unnecessary hassles of hiring an online freelancer, then EliteBrains is your best choice.

Wrapping it up: Toptal vs Upwork vs EliteBrains

All three platforms are great. And as a user, all three are striving to achieve the same thing: to connect you with an elite freelancer. 

When pushed for a verdict, it really depends on achieving "balance." 

Toptal offers a curation process but is quite expensive. Upwork offers the lowest cost option, but the quality of freelancers may vary, and the hiring process is very long. EliteBrains offers a quick turnaround for great freelancers that are gold standards, and at an affordable price point. So as far as balance is concerned, you can't go wrong with EliteBrains.

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