It's easy, relatively. I applied for an FFL C&R, one to see how easy it was, and two so I can engage in collecting some relics I'm interested in without going through FFL dealers. The license fee, which is relatively cheap, will pay for it self quickly if you actually use your license.
I sent my application in mid to late September of 2009 and received my packet in early to mid November.
I received my forms from the ATF website for free along with some other materials including finger print cards. All for free. http://www.atf.gov/forms/dcof/
I read through all of the forms and instructions carefully. Filling out the forms is a lot like the ones you do for buying firearms except a little more information and there are two copies for C&R licenses (one for the local ranking LEO such as the Sheriff and another copy for the ATF). It's simple. I also asked for an FFL Dealer form but I have yet to pursue that and likely will not (you really need to be in the business of dealing firearms for that one to be legit). This is also a much thicker packet to fill out and the license cost more, $300 I think.
I got finger printed by my local PD, $10 for me. I sent the filled out local LEO form to the Sheriff, you don't have to do or wait for anything after that. Just send it in. If they wish to respond to you, fine, but the ATF requires nothing more than you just sending it to who ever the ranking LEO is (Chief or Sheriff) in your jurisdiction. This covers the ATF requirement that you inform your local LEA that you are acquiring said license.
I sent both finger print cards and the ATF form in with my payment. My payment clear just a few days after mailing the forms to the ATF, so I knew they at least got it and was sure they were processing it.
After several weaks, I had my packet which included a book of laws/regulations, a book of all the listed C&R weapons (there are many weapons that are not covered in this book, it is just a good guide on many of them) a CD with some information and various other things along with my official license, effective immediately.
Very easy, at least for the C&R. I would think that a dealer's license may take a little bit longer but regardless, no one needs to pay anyone to do the paper work. The only things you should be paying for are you finger prints, the licensing fee(s), and the cost of postage.