So i think legally, you need to be very careful.
I think when lawyers are involved, theres always a danger of optimising for the worst possible situation, which takes up a lot of time and effort, and often doesn't leave you, your customers or your business in a better situation.
In any case, no matter your final decisions, it's always prudent to be aware of the worst case scenario.
It's really easy for money to get in the way of a friendship / client relationship but having a separate third party makes that so much easier to deal with.
It makes it very easy to bring up billing in the middle of of an email.
"It would be great to get together to discuss x next week, I'm across your way on Tuesday if your free (by the way, x mentioned that your invoice is still outstanding, any chance you could take a look at that so she stops moaning at me! :) )"
Makes the whole thing much simpler and gives them an easy way of responding with some humor.
(I will mention that x actually does exist and it is her email, she also looks after the accounts.. my main point was that the separation of the billing parts from the 'doing the work' parts has been a good thing for us)
What I wonder is how much it would cost to outsource Tony. The job of being Tony is, in the simplest form, really simple: You have to physically exist, and send out stock emails that I compose for you, and forward the responses to me. Obviously if your Tony candidate can write and speak well and has great customer-service skills they can do more, like actually respond to calls and emails without checking back with you.
Also, no products on credit for new customers either. Credit is only for ESTABLISHED customers.
If a client isn't holding up their end of a contract with you it doesn't suddenly make it okay to start lying to them to get what you want.
What happens when the client finds out that you invented a fake person to pressure them into paying you? What happens when word gets out in your industry that you are a liar who will stoop to deceiving your customers if you're not getting what you want?
There are few, if any, things more important in business than your name and your reputation. I would much rather take the loss on the contract and move on than risk being seen as untrustworthy.
If you want to talk about dishonest no good lowlifes, let's talk about the client who doesn't pay for the product.
There is no excuse for lying.
Although the incendiary language makes it hard to discuss substance.
Is everyone in accounts departments pressuring others to pay?
Are you not 'getting what you want' if you're not paid on time?
Or are you entirely justified to follow up a late payment in both of these circumstances?
These are indeed incendiary words, and they were used to make a point, but certainly not to make a personal attack, so I apologize if it came off that way.
My point in using language like this was to illustrate how others may perceive you and your business if word of the "Virtual Tony" gambit got out. It's not fun to see things like this written about you, and it can kill your business.
In my experience there are two kinds of clients that don't pay on time: clients that genuinely want to pay but can't for a legit reason, and clients that have no intention of paying you and will do anything to weasel out of it.
It's the latter that could really use the "Virtual Tony" against you if it ever came to light. These are bad people anyway, and by doing something dishonest in return you are just giving them more ammunition to get away with it.
Did you happen to catch the case of Carl Herold on Reddit a month or so ago? He had a deal go south with a client and the guy smeared him all over the internet and almost ruined his business. 
In that case, Carl was in the right and still had all kinds of harm done to him because of a disgruntled client. Imagine if Carl had pulled the "Virtual Tony" on this guy. I'm guessing Reddit wouldn't have jumped to his aid to help him out because they would've seen him as dishonest.
To your point, you are certainly justified in following up with a client if you're not getting paid. And I certainly think there's validity to the idea that a third party, good cop/bad cop relationship could help things turn out better for everyone in the end.
What I totally disagree with is making that person up and impersonating him or her to your client. It's a bad road to go down and not worth the potentially devastating hit your reputation would take if it got out.
It was your response that made me re-think the way I phrased the original article. While I know some people who have been successful using this kind of strategy for years, it's certainly not something I'd generally advocate for all of the reasons you've pointed out.
Carl certainly would have looked more dishonest in that scenario. However as I understand it, his scenario was a partnership with another company. So it may not be directly applicable to my article, which is in regards to service companies acting as vendors to other companies.
One last footnote: in my experience, there is a third kind of client that doesn't pay on time. The apathetic client. This client is often large and deals primarily with much larger companies, or has a billing department in a different country, or is unfamiliar with your company's contract.
In this situation, as others have suggested, a gentle reminder email from firstname.lastname@example.org may be a good way to get attention drawn to your pending invoice without personally stepping into the middle of the transaction.
This was the main point I was trying to communicate anyway - the importance of separation between accounts and the day-to-days.
Really, there's nothing dishonest about sending email from email@example.com when you're dealing with accounts. Just happening not to mention that you're using a different email address for that isn't a big deal.
This is your automatic notice: our accounting system has classified your account as delinquent because $YOU_FAIL_AT_TIMELY_BILL_PAYMENT. If you do not bring your account into positive status, the system will mark your account for escalation of collection activities. To make a payment, $PAY_AS_AGREED_YOU_MAMOO. If you believe you are seeing this message in error, $FEEL_FREE_TO_ASK_ME_TO_MARK_YOU_CURRENT_BEFORE_YOU_PAY because $THAT_WILL_BE_A_FUN_CONVERSATION.
You can automate paper nastygrams -- not that anyone will notice if they're actually sent by hand, mind you...
It IS much more scary to get semi-automated collections threats, than to talk to some fake guy on email.
I've edited the article in order to keep the focus on the point I was trying to make. In any case, thanks for taking the time to comment.
as customer i no longer trusted the company: they were lying to me, trying to make their business look bigger than it actually was.
if they were dishonest about this, what else were they being dishonest about?
at the first opportunity, i took my business elsewhere.
To what degree is it alright to 'peacock' your business and appear bigger than you are, if (a) you're absolutely certain you can cover the client requirements, and (b) the client is choosing between you, and a few other solutions/providers?
Out of interest, did this company do something bad to you? Was the service unacceptable, and did you previously have a good working relationship with them?
In the long run, you aren't fooling anyone with that (they're going to figure it out), it's a terrible, unnecessary mental burden, and your customers will probably find out that you've been deceiving them.
In my first company, my partner and I fell prey to that need to exaggerate our stature. It was almost entirely fueled by our own insecurities, not actual client expectations. In retrospect, we both believe that a large part of our inability to weather the dotcom bust was tied to things we did out of an imagined need to "peacock".
i don't think it's ok to 'peacock'; it's tantamount to fraud.
if your clients are concerned that you cannot cover their requirements, you should address these concerns, not lie to them
as this impedes their due diligence.
if you get caught, your reputation is destroyed, and i would be surprised if there were no legal recourse.
I certainly agree with your sentiment though - misrepresentation is bad, and to be avoided.
For a sole proprietor who is trying to win business, but has no resources, funds, or choice, I view this kind of 'peacocking' as a functional but temporary solution; especially if the sole proprietor is certain they can fulfill the clients requirements.
but in this instance, for some time, the products were just fine.
a customer's trust is most tested when things are going wrong, not when they are going well.
Really, I am not surprised that you took your business elsewhere. Probably did them a favor - most companies prefer paying customers.
My main focus was the importance of separation between accounts and day-to-day client relationships, and I've made changes in the original article to reflect that.
As always, thanks very much to everyone who took the time to post their thoughts, it helped me focus the article on the main issue I was attempting to discuss.
I appreciate the advantages of psychological separation between founder/pal and money chaser, but why not just send an email from 'Accounts?'
If you're unable to hire a person to do this for you, having some distance from clients about sensitive financial matters can be beneficial for both you and the client.
It's a decision you need to make though - are you comfortable with this level of 'deception' if it's conducive to better relationships with your clients?
If so, go ahead.
If not, ideally hire someone else, or do it all yourself.
I was fortunate in that I could support an accounts person very soon after I started my business, but I think this strategy is akin to "No, you look great in those jeans", a statement that also benefits both parties. :)
Then, report back to us what they think. Somehow I don't think they'll buy the "I was lying to you for your own good" line.
Ideally, you'd want this to be your accounts person.
The general question is: do we have the right to deceive people "for their own good"? I say no.
Even if there aren't any legit reasons, countering an unethical move with another unethical move is definitely still unethical in my book.
If you are a one-man shop, go ahead and create the role alias and then delegate when you grow.
On the other hand, it's harder to use a glib "it's just procedure, I'm sure you always were going to pay" to smooth things over when the passive-aggressive payment demand that's got the client riled is signed with your name, CEO.
On top of it, I'd feel bad constantly for pretending to be a Tony when I'm not one.
It could be useful to do this internally. I'm just starting up a business by myself, and I was thinking of making a list of all the roles I need to fill, as a reminder to not just code.
It's easy to put on different hats when reacting to external crises, or events, but I don't want to forget about internal initiatives. E.g. proactive sys-adminning, creating marketing plans, etc.
FreeAgent does a great job of telling me when invoices are overdue. If I could configure it to send an obviously-automated email whenever that happens, it'd solve most of my invoice-chasing problems.