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.