Andrew
Burak
CEO at Relevant

Toptal vs. Upwork vs. Arc: What’s Best for Hiring Developers?

Dedicated teams

If you’ve tried your hand at hiring before, you’ll agree that finding the right talent can be hard. In fact, just deciding where to look forms a gigantic part of the challenge. One thing’s for sure, though: when local talent lacks the knowledge and expertise you need for your project, there’s no better solution than hiring developers online.

Freelancers make up over 35% of the US workforce, with an estimated total of 1.1 billion of them working across the globe today. There’s no shortage of potential hires. You just have to look in the right place.

Just as freelancers represent a significant segment of the world’s economy, Toptal, Upwork, and Arc represent the leading marketplaces for hiring them. Each platform has its peculiarities, advantages, and shortcomings. Which should you use to recruit tech experts for your project? Keep reading to find out. 

Introduction: what are Toptal, Upwork, and Arc

Let’s start small before we delve into a detailed comparison of Toptal vs. Upwork vs. Arc. What makes these platforms stand out?

Toptal

“Toptal is an on-demand service for high-caliber talent. That’s what makes us different from other freelance marketplaces.”

Taso Du Val, CEO of Toptal

Toptal is a global network for hiring freelance developers, designers, finance experts, and product managers. It was founded in 2010 by Taso Du Val (former lead engineer at Fotolog), Adam D’Angelo (who’s also a CEO & Founder of Quora), and Andreessen Horowitz (a private venture capital firm in Silicon Valley).

As a value-driven marketplace, Toptal relies on a complex screening process only a chosen few can pass. Also, instead of combing through the platform looking for developers, you only need to communicate with Toptal consultants. Based on the criteria that fit your requirements, they will provide you with a list of fitting candidacies themselves. 

Upwork

“Most workers prioritize lifestyle over earnings. Therefore, professionals with the most in-demand skills will choose to freelance.”

Stephane K., CEO of Upwork

Upwork is an open freelancing platform that houses millions of developers, writers, designers, managers, analysts, translators, and other experts from all over the world. This marketplace dates back to 1998, when it was known as Elance-oDesk. But the Upwork as we know it today was founded in 2015 by Stratis Karamanlakis and Odysseas Tsatalos.

You’ve probably heard about other general-purpose marketplaces similar to Upwork. Many of them have smaller fees than Upwork (in comparison, Upwork charges 20% for the first $500 with a client, while Freelancer.com starts with 10%).

Nonetheless, this platform has no competition in terms of scale: Upwork has by far the largest freelancing community with over 5 million clients and 12 million registered freelancers.

Arc

“Arc is an all-in-one platform that helps you hire world-class remote engineers and teams effortlessly. Our mission is to make remote hiring easier and empower more people to do work that matters from anywhere.”

Weiting L., CEO & Founder of Arc

Arc (or Arc.dev) is a niche platform for online mentorship and freelance developers. Formerly known as CodementorX, Arc was founded in 2014 by an entrepreneur Weiting Liu.

Arc is quite similar to Toptal in its approach to vetting. In fact, it has an even lower pass rate. It’s a handy platform if you need help with acquiring freelance developers. On top of that, contractors on the website can assist you in recruiting full-time employees.

Toptal review: pros and cons

Toptal review: pros and cons

Potential hires on Toptal have to go through a stern screening process before they can apply for work. The vetting takes up to five weeks to complete. During that time, Toptal experts test the applicant’s technical expertise, communication skills, professionalism, and integrity. As a result, only 3% of developers manage to pass the screening.

By the way, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon a negative Toptal review for hiring developers on the Web. That said, many of these reviews are complaints from freelancers who failed to pass the screening process.

Don’t have the time to vet every potential hire? Good news! Toptal will provide an expert who’ll learn about your needs, business goals, and required skills. After that, Toptal will shortlist several developers so you can interview them and pick the right talent.

But note that Toptal’s hiring system isn’t perfect. Even though you will work with vetted developers, there’s no guarantee you’ll find an ideal candidate. Toptal does, however, offer a two-week trial period (the platform won’t bill you if you are dissatisfied with results).

Features:

  • Payment options: hourly rate, part-time, and full-time employment
  • Payment methods: credit card, PayPal, ABA routing, and bank wires
  • An average $40-$180 hourly rate for developers

Pros:

  • Five-step screening process. Toptal accepts less than 3% of potential developers based on their communicative and technical skills.
  • Polished hiring process. Toptal contractors find and shortlist developers for you.
  • Fast talent matching. You can get a professional developer in less than 24 hours.
  • No-risk trial. Toptal offers a free two-week trial to make sure your engagement with a developer is successful.

Cons:

  • Higher rates. Top talents demand more money.
  • Limited talent pool. Severe vetting means you will access a smaller pool of developers compared to platforms like Upwork.
  • An initial fee. You must put down a $500 deposit before using this service. Toptal will automatically apply this deposit to your first invoice after you hire a developer. 

Upwork review: pros and cons

Upwork review: pros and cons

The hiring processes in Upwork and Toptal (and Arc, for that matter) are fundamentally different. With Upwork, you won’t find experts who’ll shortlist candidates for you. Instead, you’ll have to create projects and receive bids from freelancers or do the searching yourself.

Moreover, there’s no vetting process for developers on Upwork. In fact, anyone can register as a freelancer and start working. Nonetheless, the platform has a well-thought-out rating system that will help you filter out the right talents.

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You should consider value when comparing Toptal to Upwork. You’ll have an easier time finding professionals on Toptal because only the most skilled developers can pass the screening process. However, charges tend to be significantly higher when compared to those of Upwork freelancers.

Speaking of value, Upwork is the “golden mean” of open freelancer marketplaces. There are Upwork alternatives for hiring freelance developers with engineers who charge even less for their work (Freelancer.com and Fiverr come to mind). But, as you guessed it, lower pay rates mean lower quality. On top of that, no other platform can compete with Upwork in terms of the available workforce.

Many companies use Upwork for hiring software developers for low-end projects that don’t require diverse skills. Moreover, it’s a good place to find quality hires if you’re willing to invest your time in the vetting process.

Features:

  • Bidding system. Developers bid on your projects and offer their prices.
  • Payment options: fixed price (with or without milestones) and hourly rate
  • Three premium plans: Plus, Business, and Enterprise (monthly fees range from $49.99 to $849, and even more for enterprise-level subscription)
  • Payment methods: credit card and PayPal
  • $15-$90 hourly rate for developers

Pros:

  • Huge marketplace. Upwork has the broadest talent pool in the freelancing industry.
  • Wide pricing range. A bidding system makes sure you can find developers for any budget.
  • Small fees. You pay only a 3% processing fee to use the platform. Additionally, posting a job on Upwork is free.
  • In-depth review system. Upwork automatically generates weekly reports. You can analyze and review the recordings of progress made on your projects.
  • Unified dashboard. Search for talents, vet potential hires, review work, communicate, and pay using Upwork web interface or desktop application.
  • Rating system. You can compare freelancers based on their ratings and success rate. Furthermore, you can read other customers’ feedback.
  • Industry-leading payment security infrastructure. Upwork has an advanced payment protection mechanism that makes sure you pay only for the work done.
  • Dispute requisition services. The finished work doesn’t meet your demands? File a dispute, and Upwork may exempt you from paying.

Cons:

  • Freelancing Wild West. The recruitment process features a lot of trial-and-error because the platform lacks a vetting system.
  • Enormous fees for freelancers. Upwork has a 20% revenue fee for freelancers. This drives many quality developers away from the platform.
  • Communication difficulties are quite common. Not every freelancing developer is fluent in English.
  • Useful features are locked behind a paywall. Features such as a no-risk trial period as well as ticket and email support are available only for Upwork Plus, Business, and Enterprise plans.

Arc review: pros and cons

Arc review: pros and cons

Arc’s main focus is not freelancing services but software consulting and online mentoring. Still, we consider Arc to be one of the best Toptal alternatives for hiring developers.

Both these platforms share a similar approach to hiring. You’ll discuss your requirements with a consultant who will shortlist a number of developers. Afterward, you get to personally interview them to find the one that matches your team or project.

If you compare Toptal vs. Arc in terms of the vetting, Arc turns out to be even more merciless: only 1% of the applicants can pass its six-step screening process.

You’ll get to negotiate the payment and other terms with a potential hire. On the other hand, given the exclusiveness of this platform, you shouldn’t expect low pay rates. Moreover, if you decide to hire a dev for a full-time job, you’ll have to pay an additional fee.

Features:

  • Payment options: hourly rate, retainer model (reserve a developer for a certain number of hours per week), and a full-time contract
  • Payment methods: credit card, AHC, and wire transfer
  • $60-$150 hourly rate for developers

Pros:

  • Vetted talents. Arc features a six-step screening process with a 1.1% pass rate.
  • English fluency. All developers are required to be fluent in English as a part of the vetting.
  • Fast hiring. Consultants can help you find the most appropriate remote employees. It usually takes 24-72 hours to hire a skilled dev.
  • No prepayment. You don’t need to deposit payments to search for developers.
  • Additional services. Arc provides such services as long-term mentorship for developers, one on one live help, and code review.
  • Engagement managers. This platform offers dedicated managers that can address your ongoing concerns after hiring.
  • Tracking tools. Review the work done on your project using the Arc’s dashboard, which integrates with Toggl.
  • Free trials. Arc offers a two-week trial for hourly and retainer payment models, as well as a three month risk-free period for full-time hires. If you’re dissatisfied — Arc won’t charge you and find another developer.

Cons:

  • Expensive services. Developers on this platform charge about as much as on Toptal.
  • Small talent pool. Arc has fewer developers than Toptal because of the complicated screening process.
  • Extra payment for full-time contracts. You must pay a hefty fee if you recruit full-time employees from Arc (after the three-month trial).

Another Thing to Add to the Upwork vs. Toptal vs. Arc Debate

There’s one downside to Toptal, Upwork, and Arc you don’t often hear about. We’re talking about the lack of managerial oversight.

Imagine you’ve finally found skilled software developers using one of the platforms we mentioned. You hire them, invite them to Slack, and assign them tasks. A few weeks pass, and it’s time for a project update. Some developers deliver results on time, while others miss the deadline or deliver sub-par code that requires rewriting. Now, you need to organize code reviews and revisions, but you are already a few weeks behind your schedule.

Why does this happen? Because no matter how ingenious your employees are, the project management responsibilities lie with you. And it’s not easy if you’re not used to managing & hiring remote developers.

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That’s the main problem with the marketplaces that serve for hiring freelance developers. You can’t be sure your hires will work well as a team without the right managemental approach. On top of that, even if you get a refund, you’ll never get your time back. And time is precious.

Do you value your time as much as your money? You can avoid these challenges by hiring a reputable outsourcing company with a self-contained team of developers, architects, project managers, and scrum masters.

Hire Remote Software Developers at Relevant

Let’s sum things up. 

ToptalUpworkArc
FeaturesPayment options: hourly rate,
part-time,
and full-time employment
Payment methods: credit card,
PayPal, ABA routing, and bank wires
Bidding system. Developers bid on your projects and offer their prices.
Payment options: fixed price (with or without milestones) and hourly rate
Three premium plans: Plus, Business, and Enterprise
Payment methods: credit card and PayPal
Payment options: hourly rate,
retainer model
(reserve a developer for a certain number of hours per week),
and a full-time contract
Payment methods: credit card, AHC, and wire transfer
ProsFive-step screening process. 
Polished hiring process. 
Fast talent matching.
No-risk trial.
Huge marketplace. 
Wide pricing range. 
Small fees.
In-depth review system.
Unified dashboard. 
Rating system.
Industry-leading payment security infrastructure. 
Dispute requisition services.
Vetted talents. 
English fluency. 
Fast hiring.
No prepayment. 
Additional services. 
Engagement managers.
Tracking tools. 
Free trials.
ConsHigher rates. 
Limited talent pool.
An initial fee. 
Freelancing Wild West. 
Enormous fees for freelancers.
Communication difficulties are quite common.
Useful features are locked behind a paywall.
Expensive services.
Small talent pool.
Extra payment for full-time contracts.
Average hourly rate$40-$180$15-$90$60-$150

Toptal and Arc have a strict screening process, making them more fitting for scaling your in-house team. Upwork, on the other hand, is great for hiring freelance developers for uncomplicated projects and coding tasks. Some companies use it for recruiting promising engineers, although the vetting is entirely on them.

That said, these platforms won’t be of much help for complex projects if you’ve never managed a remote team. To improve your project’s success rate, you need an outsourcing vendor to supervise it throughout its life cycle.

Relevant Software can assemble a seasoned team of vetted developers and project managers for you. We put our candidates through multiple evaluation stages to ensure they have high-grade coding talent, technical expertise, and communication skills. On top of that, our developers charge less than top freelancers on Toptal, Upwork, or Arc.

So, if you’re looking for a value-driven alternative to freelancing platforms, reach us to learn how to boost your development capacity effectively.

Written by
Andrew Burak
CEO at Relevant
My company has helped hundreds of companies scale engineering teams and build software products from scratch. Let's connect.

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