How Much Should WordPress Plugin Customization Cost?

I get a fair amount of project inquiries. One of the biggest things I see is people wanting small WordPress plugin customizations. I don’t mean small in the sense of change a line or two of code, I mean small in the sense of changing how part of the plugin works. Changes that may take a half day or up to maybe two days.

I even get requests that involve wholesale changes to how a plugin works, these types of changes can take up to a week’s worth of development time. Though this isn’t really “small” in my book, it usually still is in the eyes of the requestor. They don’t understand the mechanics of why a “premium” plugin costs $49 (or $99 for that matter) and add-ons cost $19.

Surely if a plugin costs $49 and an add-on costs $19, you should be able to do my custom tweak for like $15, right?

No. 

To make that assumption is to throw out basic principals of how things are made. The plugin may cost $49, but that wasn’t the cost to make the plugin. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours went into the initial plugin creation. The plugin developer makes this back on sales of the plugin. If 1000 copies are sold, they’ve grossed $49,000.

The same goes for add-ons. Depending on complexity, they can be made in a day, or over the course of a week or so. Selling 100 copies of one for $19 gets the developer $1900 towards the cost of development. Common-use add-ons are great. You generally won’t see an add-on that only 5 people may use. Either it’s more expensive or the developer would never make back the cost of building it.

I’m not going to complicate things at this point on how products are bundled and priced to add value and drive sales, lets just stick with basic math for the sake of this argument.

The custom shirt scenario

Have you ever looked at the cost to screen print shirts? The more shirts you buy, the cheaper the cost-per-shirt becomes. Sure you can get 1 shirt made, but it’s going to be expensive. The screen still has to be made whether you use it 1 time or 100 times.

But if you get 100 shirts made, the cost to make the screen is divided out over the shirts produced. The same goes for plugins and add-ons. The cost can be divided if it’s re-sold as a generic add-on, but this doesn’t apply to the single-use customization someone requests.

Now, when you contact someone to do custom work on a plugin and change how it works, you need to understand that you’re paying for time.

For a beginner developer this may be $35/hour. You might expect to pay closer to $100/hr for a seasoned developer, and upwards of $150 to $200 (or more) for an expert. Choosing a developer is a topic for another day, but keep in mind– if your customization is going to take a day, expect to spend more than $500 to make it a reality. You’re paying someone to make something custom for you that they aren’t going to resell.

Assembly Lines and Customizations

Henry Ford revolutionized the Auto and Manufacturing industries with the invention of the assembly line. The best part of the assembly line is that it works great when you’re doing the same thing over and over. Ford was able to assemble a Model T in 97 minutes.

The downside to the assembly line is that it didn’t allow much room for customization. If you wanted a custom product, it was usually still made by hand; and at the time, hand-assembled automobiles cost more than assembly line automobiles.

The Bottom Line

In the end, if you want custom work, understand the mechanics of your request. You’re asking for something custom that isn’t going to apply to anyone else. If you need something super custom, be prepared to pay for someone who knows the ins and outs of the systems you plan to use.

As the requestor, you have to afford the full development cost. If you can’t do that, assemble a solution based upon what plugins and extensions exist. That’s the inexpensive way out.

14 thoughts on “How Much Should WordPress Plugin Customization Cost?”

  1. iPhone’s cost €30 to make, therefore Apple should sell us them for €30 right? Software costs nothing to make since you can copy it, therefore it should be free right?

    I’m guessing that’s how some peoples brains work. Some people don’t have very good brains.

  2. Love this piece, Ryan.

    As a service agency, we’re getting plugin custom mod requests almost daily. Unfortunately, a lot of them fall into the build-me-facebook-for-five-dollars bucket. A lot of people freak out when they hear the custom mod pricing. Half of me understands this, because they don’t do this for a living, but the other half (the business side) wants to scream and shout

    “What did you expect?!”

    99% of the requests are for e-commerce or revenue generating functions. It boggles the mind to think that you could invest $10,000

  3. That’s a great overview Ryan, and thanks for linking the $15 request that I got from LinkedIn.

    There’s even more to it if you account for the fact that a customization should happen to an existing product (or an entire system). I’ve done consulting and customizations work for large multisites that have eCommerce software, membership and forums, live chat systems and a dozen large plugins in the same platform. A single line can affect a hundred different subsite, including their frontend forms, widget views and admin panels as well.

    Also, building a bridge between serveral WordPress plugins can be challenging, especially if you think about accessibility or how would it reflect a multilingual setup, or protected areas visible by specific roles.

    The larger a system is, the more implications a small change could have. And asking for a few changes to a plugin is a challenging job that requires an expert, a lot of time for digging into the existing system, testing different scenarios, setting a safe environment for work and potentially automated tests that would verify the different cases as the changes happen.

    Often building a plugin from scratch is cheaper than adding a few small features to it. And the fact that it’s a free or a cheap plugin doesn’t mean that the remaining 10% or 15% of the work is going to be cheap.

  4. Interesting… but what about updates? Let’s say you modify a plugin for a client who pays you say $1000 to do so, then let’s say a security update comes out for the original plugin you modified for someone? What then? Haven’t you just doomed the client? I’m not sure how this works and am curious to learn… presumably the client with modified plugin wouldn’t even be notified (unless you told him/her) that there’s an update out for the original. No?

    1. p.s. when you modify a theme, best practices point towards creating a child theme. Is this a principle that can carried into plugin land? I.e. Do child plugins exist, and if not, I wonder why not…?

    2. Brin,

      There’s no cut and dry answer on this one. Generally when I talk about plugin customizations I’m referring to extending some functionality in a plugin like Gravity Forms, Easy Digital Downloads, WooCommerce, etc. All things that have places you can hook in and adjust how things happen.

      I try and avoid flat out modifying a plugin but generally when I do, it’s considered as-is and generally renders that plugin void of being able to be updated.

      Because of this, the preferred way is (just like core) modifying via hooks and filters. Unfortunately not all plugins have this. A lot of it is also very circumstantial based on what needs to change. Is the plugin still active or has it been neglected for a year or more?

      Generally what I do if I need to flat out customize a plugin that doesn’t have hooks and filters, be it one in active development or one that’s been neglected, is to take parts of it and use it to provide the exact functionality the client needs. In the end the client gets a custom plugin built to do exactly what they want.

  5. Bit late coming to the party for your post but I thought that I would just say that a relevant comeback to these types of requests is to point out that a copy of MS Word is pretty cheap but would they expect to get MS to change one of the main sections for $10. I think not…

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