TopTal Review - My First Year as a TopTal Freelancer

marcus
Senior Software Engineer at BCG
7 min read
TopTal Review - My First Year as a TopTal Freelancer

A little more than 1 year ago I decided to apply to become a freelancer with the exclusive freelance platform TopTal . They claim to only recruit the Top 3% of talent and it's definitely the crème de la crème within its category and the platform that many freelancers aspire to join.

After preparing for the application process in the same way as I would prepare for an interview with any large technology company, I was accepted to the platform.

Since then I've been working with TopTal full time for a little bit over a year and I'm ready to give my verdict as I look back at the past year.

The short version of it: It's been great!

Getting Started with TopTal after Acceptance

After being accepted onto the platform there is a ton of documents and information to set up before you can actually start applying for jobs. Some of these things include:

  • Signing the TopTal Terms.
  • Setting up your Profile, Skills, Resume on the Platform.
  • Setting your hourly rate.
  • Applying for projects.

There have been some discussions online about the terms that you are asked to accept when joining the TopTal platform, specifically related to that each project has a trial period of 2 weeks.

This trial means that if the client is unhappy with the freelancer's work within the first 2 weeks, they can cancel the project and pay 0% to TopTal, however, TopTal will still pay the freelancer 50% of their expected income.

I've never had a project canceled, and I do think that these terms are fair, especially considering that TopTal is a platform where they do not control all of the freelancers as much as a consultancy or agency do. I do have some understanding that they want to offer some kind of guarantee to the companies that are using the service.

All in all, I do think that the terms are fair and I've never had any issue with TopTal or their terms since joining more than 1 year ago.

How much can I charge per hour on TopTal?

Next up you have to set your hourly rate. Unlike some misinformation online, TopTal does allow you to set an hourly rate of your own choice, however, they do have some recommended ranges based on region to get you a feel of what you charge relative to other members of the platform.

Notice that I write "recommended ranges based on region" . Yes, you are expected to set different rates based on where in the world you are. Their reason for this is that companies in different regions expect to pay different amounts, and even though TopTal freelancers can work for companies all over the world, many companies still prefer to hire local talent within their timezone.

This means that if you are based in Asia you are recommended to set rates to compete with market rates within Asia, and if you're based in Europe you are recommended to set rates to compete with market rates within Europe.

In the end, you are still in control of what rate you set and in my case, I did not follow the official suggestions and I set a rate based on my home region, and not based on the region I was located.

Some ranges that you might expect based on my experience from talking to multiple different TopTal consultants.

  • Developing Regions: $30 - $60 per hour.
  • Developed Regions: $60 - $100 per hour.

Note that you can always change your rate, even in long term projects.

Getting The First TopTal Project

Getting my first project with TopTal was a bit of a struggle. You get access to the internal job board where there are daily postings of new projects, but in the beginning, you don't have a good feeling for if you should apply for many projects at the same time or apply for one at a time.

It took me about 1 month to get my first project which was with Coinbase , one of the larger cryptocurrency platforms right now (Note: I got full permissions from Coinbase to disclose that I worked with them. This is not the case with all projects).

Each time you get matched with a project you go through a client interview. This interview is usually over Skype or some other voice chat program, and it allows you to get some insights into the project details, what they are expecting of you and they can also get a feeling to see if you are the right fit for them.

According to TopTal staff, each project only interviews about ~1.7 freelancers before they make their choice. So if you do well in the interview, it means you have a high chance of getting the project.

The Coinbase project itself was relatively short and just an hourly project. My experience with them was great and everything went very smooth.

The reason why it took a quite long time to get my first project was both because I was relatively picky about which projects that I applied to, but also because I was perhaps too accommodating with waiting for responses for certain other projects that I had pending applications for.

My suggestion is that if a client does not get back to you shortly after you've submitted your application, just go ahead and apply for other ones. Don't sit around for days waiting for them to do a decision.

TopTal Payments and Invoices

TopTal generates invoices for you every 2 weeks, and then the payment terms are an additional 2 weeks from the day the invoice is generated. This means that from the day you start doing work, it will take about ~1 month before you receive your first paycheck.

The payments are done to a separate service that TopTal has called "TopTal Payments". The payments are done in USD and then from your Payments account, you can then choose to transfer the money to any of your private accounts where it will then also convert the currency to your local currency.

TopTal Payments also offers to give you a prepaid debit card branded with a TopTal logo. This offer has been great for me and I personally use this method to withdraw most of my TopTal payments. It also works great if you travel and work a lot remotely.

Generally, the TopTal payment system has worked very well this past year but it hasn't been perfect. There have been a few negatives such as:

  • A few late payments. Normally not later than just a few days but it can be a bit annoying when payments do not arrive on time.
  • The TopTal debit card has a daily limit of $2500/day that cannot be changed. This might sound like a lot, but whenever you want to schedule Hotel stays or Flights to work out of client offices, the limit can be quite a frustrating detail.
  • Project expenses has the same payment period as the normal invoicing cycle. This means that you can be with money out of pocket for an extended period of time while you are waiting to get it paid back.

With that said, I'm still happy with TopTal and they are definitely worth their weight in gold when it comes to payments. In the past, I've done invoicing on my own and there have been plenty of times where I had to chase clients for payments. With TopTal all of this is taken care of for you and that I can't describe how valuable that is to me as a freelancer so that I can focus on my work and billing additional hours.

Long Term Full-Time Projects

The second project I got was with another well-known company named Boston Consulting Group (BCG) which is one of the "Top 3" business consultant firms together with their competitors McKinsey and Bain (Note: I do have permission from BCG to share that I've worked with them, unfortunately, I'm not allowed to share details about the project).

At this point in time, I had already completed my work with my previous employer and I was available for full-time work on a long term project. This means 40 hours a week for an extended period of time (6-12 months).

This client requested me to work part-time out of their offices where the rest of the team was located, which means that for the past year I've been traveling frequently across continents for 2-3 weeks at a time and then cycling that with spending 3-4 weeks at home.

You should perhaps not expect many projects to be like this as you join TopTal, but it definitely shows the wide range of type of projects that you can be expected to work with as you join the platform.

The fact that I've been able to fly business class to multiple different countries and stay at beautiful hotels in downtown areas of various capital cities has been a great experience for me and definitely something that has set this year apart from my other years as a Software Engineer.

Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to go into details about the project itself, but all in all, I've been extremely happy with working with this client through the TopTal platform, and it's a proof of the high-quality clients that do exist within the TopTal network.

Getting Job Offers through TopTal Clients

After working with BCG for almost a year, I was extended an offer to join them officially as a BCG employee and I will join them in their London office at the end of the summer.

So how does that work? Are you even allowed to work with clients outside of TopTal? Doesn't the TopTal Agreement that you sign as you join prohibit you from doing that?

Well yes, and no. It is correct that you are not allowed to go behind TopTal's back by working with the client on the side, however, TopTal is very accommodating in setting up recruitment if the client shows that kind of interest.

I was in conversation with my TopTal recruiter as soon as discussions about recruitment were discussed and they were incredibly supportive from the start. In the end, the client had to pay a recruitment fee to TopTal for buying me out of my contract and it was a win-win for all parties involved.

Even though I now will have a full-time job again, I will still be a member of the TopTal network and I hope to pick up more part-time projects within the upcoming year.

I am super happy with TopTal, they have given me great opportunities in the past year and I look forward to keeping working on additional projects through their platform in the future.

I hope this post also inspired you in looking into TopTal . If you have any questions please leave a comment below.

marcus
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